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ALLIES VOTE SONIA
Unanimous choice sets coronation stage

New Delhi, May 16: It’s over to Sonia Gandhi now.

The Congress president tonight won an unequivocal endorsement from allies to take over as the Prime Minister of India, setting the stage for her swearing-in this week if she wishes so.

The allies’ unanimous expression of confidence in Sonia came on a day her opponents linked to the Sangh parivar stepped up a chorus against her foreign origin and threatened to launch a “national movement”.

A more worrisome factor is the growing possibility of the Left parties staying out of the government. The Left will announce its decision tomorrow.

Among those who turned up at a show of support at Sonia’s house were two unexpected guests — Amar Singh of the Samajwadi Party and Ajit Singh of the Rashtriya Lok Dal.

It is not clear how big a role the Congress itself played in their attendance or whether all Congress leaders were enthused to see the potential power-sharers there, but their presence was another incontrovertible sign of Sonia’s growing acceptance among the political class.

If Sonia heeds the call that rang out of the endorsement today, she is expected to take oath as Prime Minister on Wednesday, a day after Amavasya. Before the swearing-in, the Prime Minister-designate is planning to visit a temple.

Sonia is likely to stake claim tomorrow. The exact time will depend on when President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam formally constitutes the 14th Lok Sabha, which is also expected on Monday.

Sonia’s election as the leader of the new coalition, which is yet to be christened, was a certainty even before leaders of the Congress’ pre-poll allies and Left parties met over dinner at her 10 Janpath residence.

Ahead of the dinner meeting, almost all supporting parties had given letters to the Congress leadership, endorsing Sonia as their prime ministerial candidate.

The strongest indication that Sonia would be the choice of the allies came in the letter DMK leader M. Karunanidhi handed over. “We wish to communicate to you that the DMK has a pre-poll alliance with the Congress and we would like to state that the DMK consisting of 16 MPs extends support to a Congress-led government to be formed under Sonia Gandhi’s leadership,” said the letter, addressed to the President and signed by the DMK leader.

Karunanidhi proposed Sonia’s name to head the coalition. Laloo Prasad Yadav and Sharad Pawar seconded it before all the leaders present unanimously endorsed her name. “Isn’t my dream coming true'” wondered aloud Laloo Prasad, who had said that he would play “queen-maker” in Delhi.

Congress leader Manmohan Singh said the coalition would have a name, a coordination committee and a common minimum programme for smooth functioning. The allies and partners authorised Manmohan and his colleague Pranab Mukherjee to draft the common minimum programme and circulate it.

The Left parties have indicated that they might not be a signatory to the minimum programme if they do not join the government. However, Pranab played this down, citing a 1996 precedent. As the Congress was then backing the United Front government from outside, it was merely given a copy of the common minimum programme, he said.

Including the Congress, 19 parties were represented at the dinner meeting. The RSP was not represented at the meeting. The BSP and the Janata Dal (Secular), who have pledged support, too, were not there.

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