The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Congress finds stomach for alliance cocktail

Shimla, July 8: Ignoring the odd discordant voice, the Congress leadership has hitched its wagon to the engine of alliances to make a power dash to Delhi.

After nearly 10 hours of talks, a panel of senior leaders under Arjun Singh is understood to have decided to authorise party president Sonia Gandhi to hold negotiations with potential partners at the state level and decide.

The alliance approach is flexible and takes into account some paradoxical political realities facing the Congress’ allies in states. This is reflected in a new formulation.

“The Congress is prepared, where necessary, to enter into pre- and post-election arrangements with other parties on the basis of a principled programme without in any way compromising with the basic principles and policies of the Congress party,” a position paper for the brainstorming session said.

“Post-election arrangement” is an obvious reference to the two Left parties which have already vowed support to a Congress-led government at the Centre, though there can be no pre-poll understanding with the CPM and the CPI in Bengal, Kerala and Tripura.

For this very reason, the leadership is not in favour of forming a pre-poll umbrella coalition like the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. It prefers not to publicly talk about states where it will look for pre-poll arrangements, though Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra are the obvious ones.

“How can we talk about it now and still expect to bargain from a position of strength with our potential allies in these states'” asked a senior leader.

With chief spokesperson S. Jaipal Reddy declaring yesterday that Sonia will be the party’s prime ministerial candidate, any prospective alliance partner will have to accept her leadership.

At least one delegate from Uttar Pradesh argued that if the party made this a condition, it might become risky to have an alliance with the Samajwadi Party, for instance, which had earlier rejected Sonia but has changed its view since.

Sources said at least one other leader questioned the desirability of pre-poll alliances. But Sonia cut short the argument, asserting that she had already stated the party’s readiness to seek alliances at Srinagar a month ago.

Still, leaders insisted that the party should not in any way cramp the room to win as many seats as possible while forging pre-poll alliances.

In this context, another panel that discussed poll preparedness is understood to have recommended that in about 132 Lok Sabha seats, where the party lost by narrow margins in the last elections, the nominees this time should be named at least six months in advance. This committee believes that polls will be held next February.

On the second day of the three-day session, a panel strongly advised new policy formulations to retrieve the party’s traditional support base among Dalits, adivasis, minorities and other backward castes.

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