The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia lines up ‘moral’ offensive

New Delhi, May 12: In a tactical move to push the National Democratic Alliance on the defensive, the Congress today said the ruling combine would forfeit its moral and political right to form the government if it does not secure a clear majority.

The party indicated that this line of argument might be put before President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam if the results throw up a hung House.

While it is decided that Congress will stake claim if the combined tally of the party, its allies and the Left exceeds that of the NDA, a view is emerging that a non-NDA government is possible even if the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led alliance is the single largest group but falls short of majority.

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi has had two days of extensive consultations with leaders of allied parties and the Left. After talks with CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet yesterday, Sonia has spoken to leaders of other Left parties, Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Laloo Prasad Yadav and Lok Janshakti Party’s Ram Vilas Paswan. Former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar, too, met her this evening.

Coming out of 10 Janpath, he said the leader of the largest non-NDA party should head the government. Chandra Shekhar clarified he had no objection to Sonia becoming Prime Minister and would offer all help in the formation of a secular government.

Sonia and her senior colleagues have worked in tandem with Surjeet to keep the unity among the allies, Congress sources said. Party leaders like Ahmed Patel, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Kamal Nath are believed to have been asked to keep in touch with current allies and also talk to unnamed “potential” allies.

Through Surjeet, Sonia has reached out to Samajwadi Party leader and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav. Party strategists were encouraged by Mulayam Singh’s statement during the day that he would have nothing to do with the NDA. Although he is still non-committal about backing Sonia as Prime Minister, the Congress is beginning to count on the Samajwadis’ support after Mulayam Singh said he was committed to the efforts to form a secular government.

However, the party is maintaining a deliberate silence on the leadership question. A senior party leader said Sonia remains the obvious candidate to head a Congress-led government as she is the undisputed leader of the party.

“But we are aware that a couple of parties, like the Nationalist Congress Party and the Samajwadi Party, have a problem with this. It is not an insurmountable problem. Which is why we are not naming Sonia as the leader,” he said.

All would depend on the numbers, party sources said. If the Congress itself were to win over 140 seats, it will be seen as a recovery under Sonia and improve the chances of her acceptability among more allies.

But not many party leaders believe that the numbers would add up if the Congress does not get on its own at least 135-140 seats. “So why talk about the leadership now, when we do not know the actual numbers'” asked a party strategist.

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