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Crash before crown

New Delhi, May 14: After yesterday’s stunning victory, the Congress, its allies and the Left today began the exercise of forming a coalition government in the shadow of a stock market crash.

The focus is not so much on the leadership of the coalition since Congress president Sonia Gandhi, whom her parliamentary party is expected to elect leader tomorrow morning, is the prime ministerial candidate.

Nearly everyone is saying so, except she herself. In a TV interview today, Sonia said: “I am not attached to any particular position. As far as the issue of Prime Minister, the victorious members of Parliament… who will elect the leader.”

Bihar allies Laloo Prasad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan declared that Sonia was their choice. There never was any doubt about the choice of the Left, whose leaders Harkishen Singh Surjeet (CPM) and A.B. Bardhan (CPI) met her today.

After talks with Sonia in the morning, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar would not comment on whether he would accept her. But party spokesman Praful Patel indicated after a meeting of the working committee that there would be no problem having her as the Prime Minister.

He said the party would go along with whatever consensus emerged among the allies on leadership. Patel added that Sonia and leaders of other allied parties would meet either on Sunday or Monday to finalise the leadership and other issues of coalition governance.

Congress leaders read Pawar’s silence on Sonia as simply a position he was striking ahead of the haggle over portfolios.

“It is not as if they have not accepted Sonia. They may be bargaining before endorsing her obvious leadership. It is not unexpected,” a Congress leader said.

Mostly busy with party colleagues firming up the approach to coalition building, Sonia had to step in when the stock market went through the floor after anti-privatisation comments by some Left leaders.

She sent word to Manmohan Singh to make a statement to smooth ruffled investor feathers, which he did. Singh has been given the task of working out a common minimum agenda for governance with allies.

Two sticking points have emerged in forging the coalition. One is the participation of the Left in government and the other the Samajwadi Party’s inclusion in the coalition.

The Congress is trying to persuade the Left to join the government, but there is resistance in the CPM. Sonia wants the coalition to be broad in the interest of stability.

Although the Left has not yet agreed to take a share of power, it is insisting — along with Pawar — that Mulayam Singh be taken in, offering the same argument as the Congress: that the coalition should be as inclusive as possible.

Pawar and Mulayam Singh met Surjeet as it appeared that the Congress was not keen on bringing the Samajwadis on board.

Relations between the Congress and Mulayam Singh have not been too good, and Mayavati, the Samajwadis’ rival in Uttar Pradesh, made the first overture to climb aboard immediately after Sonia’s victory.

Samajwadi general secretary Amar Singh said something to the effect that the Left and his party were inseparable, after having shunned the company of both the Left and the Congress in recent times.

“We cannot ignore the Congress here as that party cannot ignore the SP in Uttar Pradesh,” he said.

One section of the Congress, however, thinks by bringing Mayavati in it can “ignore” Mulayam Singh.

Sonia’s southern ally, DMK chief M. Karunanidhi, is expected to arrive in the capital either tomorrow or on Sunday. But Karunanidhi has already spoken in favour of Sonia as Prime Minister. He remains to be coaxed into joining the ministry, though.

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