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Hemmed in, Cong puts on brave face
- Trouble trails party from Karnataka to Bihar, partners raise questions on govt’s credibility

New Delhi, Jan. 27: After the euphoria of Rahul Gandhi’s formal entry on the party’s centre stage, the Congress today grappled with the more sobering realities of alliance politics, court raps and erring MPs.

Facing the media for the first time after the Hyderabad jamboree, the party fielded uncomfortable questions on the Karnataka debacle, Buta Singh’s resignation, CBI-law ministry “contradictions” on the Quattrocchi defreeze controversy and Left pressure on the Iran vote.

Adding to these was the resignation of its Chandigarh MP, Pawan Kumar Bansal, as chairman of the House committee probing the misuse of the MPs’ development funds. Bansal has been accused of having misused his own allocation by giving Rs 5 lakh to a golf club to build a squash court in return for its honorary membership.

The Congress tried to make the best of a bad situation. On Karnataka, it said “we strained every sinew” to save the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) government from “communal” forces. But in private, leaders admitted the game was lost the day H.D. Deve Gowda called on Atal Bihari Vajpayee earlier this month.

General secretary Ambika Soni insisted the Congress would not throw in the towel before the trust vote. “It will be curtains for the chief minister only when the Dal (S) MLAs vote for communal forces. Let the people of Karnataka see which party is committed to secularism and which is not.”

She was later overtaken by events when N. Dharam Singh failed to take a vote of confidence and the Assembly was adjourned sine die.

The Congress’s calculation was that the Dal (S) would be the “loser” after aligning with the BJP as it has a large share of Muslim votes.

Party spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi tried to control damage from the Supreme Court’s verdict on former Bihar governor Buta Singh and the BJP’s demand that the Prime Minister should also quit.

The court had accused Buta of “misleading” the Centre ahead of the Bihar Assembly dissolution last May but added the government should have been more circumspect.

“Despite saying the Centre was misled' the court does not go further in attaching importance to the issue,” Singhvi said. “By the BJP’s yardstick, Vajpayee and Advani should have resigned several times because the court had questioned the NDA’s decision on Ayodhya (and) the dissolution of the Gujarat Assembly,” he added.

Singhvi denied any delay in Buta’s resignation, arguing: “The judgment came on Tuesday, copies were made available on Wednesday and he resigned on Thursday.”

On the Left’s demand that Delhi must not support any move to refer the Iran nuclear controversy to the UN Security Council, Singhvi said whatever decision is taken should be in national interest.

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