The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cong clings to SP straw

New Delhi, March 27: The Congress today invited Mulayam Singh Yadav to consider seat adjustments in Uttar Pradesh, in an eleventh hour appeal aimed at wresting the secularism plank from the Samajwadi Party.

“We are inviting the Samajwadi Party to explore the possibility of seat adjustments among the Samajwadi Party, Congress and Rashtriya Lok Dal,” Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee said.

The invitation through the media came two days after party spokesperson Kapil Sibal made a veiled threat of withdrawing the outside support of the 16-member Congress legislature party to the Mulayam Singh government in Lucknow.

Samajwadi sources ruled out any seat adjustments and said that at the most the party could skip Amethi where Rahul Gandhi is contesting. The sources said the party would not withdraw its candidate from Rae Bareli, where Sonia Gandhi is in the fray, because it had no inkling that she was planning to shift to the seat.

Party general secretary Amar Singh told The Telegraph: “I always took the initiative to call Sonia, she never called. I don’t want to say what discussion took place but each time I made the call, they were running after BSP and Mayavati.”

But the Congress, reconciled to going it alone in Uttar Pradesh, appeared to be preparing the ground to wrest the secularism plank from the Samajwadi. By sending the invite, the party was signalling to voters — in particular, the 12 per cent Muslim voters who have been the Samajwadi’s main pillar of support — that the Congress had tried to bring all secular parties together to fight the BJP and that the blame for the absence of such a front should be on the Samajwadi and the BSP.

“The Congress has been trying sincerely to forge alliances with various secular parties in different states to ensure that secular votes are not split. In that context, we are inviting the Samajwadi Party to explore the possibilities of seat adjustment,” Mukherjee said.

Later in the day, Samajwadi state general secretary and former legislator Qadir Khan was admitted into the Congress.

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