The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia gets alliance jitters

New Delhi, Nov. 1: The Congress leadership is increasingly getting jittery over the political situation in Uttar Pradesh, fearing that it may have to support the unpredictable Samajwadi Party leader, Mulayam Singh Yadav, against the wishes of its state unit’s rank and file.

Congress leaders do not wish to see a strong “third front” emerge, though officially the party is talking about the “strengthening” and “consolidation of secular forces”. In the Congress’ assessment, Mulayam’s elevation as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh would usher in a new paradigm that would be detrimental to party chief Sonia Gandhi’s “long term interests”.

Congress leaders are worried about an erosion in their vote-banks. Leaders like Motilal Vora, Salman Khurshid, Mohsina Kidwai, and Arun Kumar Singh Munna have told Sonia that minorities in the state would start looking up to Mulayam once he becomes chief minister. “It would halt the return of minority votes towards us,” a senior party leader cautioned Sonia.

Mulayam’s rise would also mark the beginning of a new “third front” at the national level, others feel. The Left leadership is already backing Mulayam openly.

According to the Congress think-tank, parties like the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the ADMK, the Telugu Desam, the Biju Janata Dal and other regional forces may team up with Mulayam and the Left to provide an alternative to the NDA. “In such a scenario, we stand to lose our primacy in national politics,” they said.

Political compulsions, however, prevent the Congress from openly opposing Mulayam. There is unanimity in the party that it cannot be seen as bailing out a beleaguered BSP-BJP regime in Lucknow.

Initially, the Congress had decided to keep Mulayam “engaged” instead of rejecting or supporting him, said party sources. But events in Uttar Pradesh have made the strategy redundant.

Today, the Congress iterated its stand that there was no case for a “pro-active role” in Uttar Pradesh. Party spokesman Anand Sharma said the leadership was keeping a close tab on political developments in the state, adding that the Samajwadi was a “secular party”.

If a trial of strength takes place, the Congress would have no option but to vote against the Mayavati regime, party leaders said. However, it is the second stage — of extending support to Mulayam — that is bothering the Congress.

The prospect of facing early Assembly polls is also making Congress MLAs nervous. As such, Sonia has directed AICC functionaries to keep a close watch on party MLAs. If the power struggle intensifies in Uttar Pradesh, Congress MLAs could become a soft target, say some leaders.

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