The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia on line to Mayavati

New Delhi, Jan. 1: Sonia Gandhi today inched closer to embracing the Bahujan Samaj Party as a poll ally, hours after Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav cold-shouldered her proposal for an anti-BJP secular alliance.

The Congress chief revealed her card for Uttar Pradesh and the rest of the Hindi heartland when she said she spoke to her BSP counterpart, Mayavati, late last night over telephone. “I wanted to meet Mayavati, but she had to go to Mumbai,” Sonia told reporters at the party headquarters.

Sonia, who has been contacting prospective allies over the last three days in a declared effort to cobble together an alliance, did not divulge the content of the conversation.

Mayavati appeared inclined to join a Congress-led front as she said in Mumbai she would have no problem accepting Sonia’s leadership. A decision on the BSP’s electoral strategy would be taken when the national executive meets on January 16, she said.

Yesterday, Mulayam Singh had ruled out joining any front and proposed to extend “issue-based support” after meeting CPM leader Harkishen Singh Surjeet and, later, Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Sonia, without naming any party, today said she would soon speak to other prospective partners. Asked whether Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party, a coalition partner in Maharashtra’s Democratic Front government, was one of them, she said she had already said so in Mumbai last weekend.

She had told a rally in Mumbai on Saturday that the “process of discussions on forming an alliance with like-minded parties has already begun. The Congress is running coalition governments not only in Maharashtra but in other states as well”.

As for Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s statement today that he was not averse to the NCP joining the NDA, Sonia said: “Let them say what they want to.”

Congress leaders said only the NCP could comment on Thackeray’s statement.

Sonia parried questions about Surjeet’s statement yesterday that there could be two parallel fronts to achieve the common objective of defeating the BJP. She simply said she was now ascertaining how best the secular parties could unite against the Vajpayee government.

“We are meeting leaders of other like-minded secular parties, discussing options together for (the) future to defeat (the) present government at the Centre,” she said.

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