The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia cries allies, Cong cries Sonia
- Party says poll tally will make her alliance leader

New Delhi, Dec. 29: Sonia Gandhi yesterday might have left the question of leadership of her party’s proposed secular alliance open, but the Congress believes that as the power equation unfolds after the Lok Sabha polls, the ball will automatically land at her feet.

“The obvious need not always be stated in so obvious terms. In politics, you can always maintain tactical ambiguity,” said a party functionary about Sonia’s statement in Mumbai.

Asked if she would be the Congress candidate for prime minister, Sonia had said: “This is a question to be decided by the people of the country.”

The statement appeared to contain a message for prospective partners to leave the leadership until after the elections and settle it once the people give their verdict.

Some of the allies the Congress is looking at, particularly Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party and Sharad Pawar of the breakaway Congress group that went out of the party over Sonia’s “foreign origin”, are reluctant to accept her as the leader of a coalition.

Even today — and even after her apparent gesture — P.A. Sangma, who left the Congress along with Pawar, said his party, the NCP, would “cooperate” with the Congress provided it named someone other than Sonia as its prime ministerial candidate. “P.V. Narasimha Rao is the only man to match (A.B.) Vajpayee,” he suggested, somewhat fancifully.

Since her statement, no ally has come out with a positive response, possibly because they are trying to unravel the import of what she said. In either case, as of now, the Congress’ move to gather together a coalition has made little progress.

The BJP has, however, seen in it an admission that she is “not acceptable” as the prime ministerial candidate to other parties. BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu said in Chennai her statement suggested she had “accepted the party’s defeat even before the Lok Sabha polls are announced”.

“They (Congress) felt shy to name their leader as the Congress has lost confidence and credibility,” he added.

The Congress’ chief spokesman, S. Jaipal Reddy, sought to put her statement in perspective, which, in short, means after the polls, an anti-BJP alliance can have only one obvious leader — Sonia.

“Sonia Gandhi continues to be the party leader and prime ministerial candidate,” he said. He dismissed party leader C.K. Jaffer Sharief’s statement yesterday that Sonia should not be projected as the prime ministerial candidate of a secular alliance, saying: “It is his personal view and not the party’s position.”

Asked if the Congress would play second fiddle in a secular alliance, Reddy said the largest constituent of any alliance would be the leader. “The Congress party is the single largest party.”

Reddy ruled out the possibility of the Congress returning to experiment with another third front model. “No such option exists before the Congress party.”

He took care to maintain the politically correct formal position that the leadership of the prospective secular alliance would be decided at the appropriate time. “We will cross the bridge when we come to that.”

Reddy said the Congress was working on a “compact alliance” that would include many pre-poll and some post-poll partners.

In the pre-poll alliance, such parties as Pawar’s NCP, Laloo Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal, the DMK and some smaller entities could come in. The Left parties and the Janata Dal (Secular) of H.D. Deve Gowda are listed as post-poll allies.

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