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Laloo works on doubting duo

New Delhi, Jan. 12: Sonia Gandhi’s drive to put together an alliance against the Vajpayee coalition gathered speed today with self-styled ‘kingmaker’ Laloo Prasad Yadav stepping in as her honest broker.

Buoyed by news from the south that the PMK has become the seventh ally to dump the BJP, Laloo Prasad today met fence-sitters like Sharad Pawar and Mayavati to convince them of the need to join the Congress-led front to defeat the “fascist forces”.

Before leaving for Patna, Laloo Prasad also phoned CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet on forging an alliance of all like-minded parties. On Sunday, Surjeet had held talks with former Prime Minister and Janata Dal (Secular) leader H.D. Deve Gowda.

Opposition sources said that so far Samajwadi Party leader and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav is the only leader of some consequence who has ruled out an electoral alliance with the Congress.

With Sonia announcing earlier that the Prime Minister will be elected by the people and the Congress repeating today that the coalition partners would elect the person to the top job after the polls are over, Laloo Prasad assured Pawar and Mayavati that “there will not be any fight over the Prime Minister’s chair”.

“Forget about the Prime Minister for now,” Laloo Prasad requested the two leaders at separate meetings.

Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party, which is being wooed by the BJP, and Mayavati’s BSP, which was keen on going it alone at the hustings, are expected to decide in the next few days.

The NCP working committee will meet here on Wednesday to decide on alliances, while the BSP will have its national executive on January 16.

Congress sources said they are more confident now that both Pawar and Mayavati would support the party.

Pawar and his party colleague P.A. Sangma had made Sonia’s foreign origin an issue and repeatedly said they will not back her as Prime Minister. However, after being snubbed by the Shiv Sena, Pawar, who also faces a revolt from the state NCP’s rank and file if he does not align with the Congress, is now inching towards an alliance with Sonia. But Sangma is still to drop his opposition to Sonia.

Laloo Prasad was supported in his venture today by senior NCP leader and former Bihar chief minister Jagannath Mishra who wrote to Pawar pleading for an alliance with the Congress in Bihar. Mishra was backed by Tariq Anwar, part of the original triumvirate after Pawar and Sangma who walked out of the Congress.

After his talks with Pawar and Mayavati, Laloo Prasad said he met the two to make them understand the perils of a divided Opposition.

The RJD leader said he would contest Lok Sabha elections. He, however, indicated that he is not a candidate for the Prime Minister’s post.

“I will remain a kingmaker,” he said.

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