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Election early birds chirp, just in case
Cong and PM stir poll and dinner pots

New Delhi, Nov. 16: Sonia Gandhi has ratcheted up preparations for the next general election at a time Manmohan Singh is striving to fortify his government before Parliament opens for the winter session on Thursday.

The Rahul Gandhi-led election coordination committee that was announced yesterday had been formed over a month ago and has already held three to four meetings to discuss state-wise poll strategy.

Observers have been appointed for the entire country to identify potential candidates and a sub-group headed by A.K. Antony has been asked to explore tie-ups with new allies.

Congress sources say the urgency for fresh allies does not mean the government fears impending ouster — it’s just that Rahul wants the preparations to begin in time and the candidates list finalised well in advance. The Antony committee will present its report soon after talking to prospective allies.

Digvijaya Singh, who is part of Rahul’s committee, today said the party would ideally have fought the elections alone but that cannot happen in 2014. He confirmed that the Congress had begun poll preparations in earnest and that the possibility of new parties joining the UPA could not be ruled out.

Congress sources indicated that the long-awaited All India Congress Committee shuffle too would happen soon: Sonia apparently does not want organisational issues to linger at a crunch time.

Senior leaders insisted that the government would complete its term but admitted that the party did not want to be caught unawares if the ministry indeed fell.

The numbers are at the mercy of the flip-flopping Mulayam Singh Yadav and mercurial Mayawati. Although the Prime Minister has met the heartland duo to explain the necessity of tough economic measures such as FDI in multi-brand retail, both have stayed non-committal.

Trinamul’s pullout has reduced the government to a minority and ally DMK too is opposed to retail FDI; so the Congress has to remain prepared for any eventuality.

The circumstances have forced the government to reach out to friendly parties as well as the Opposition in a big way.

Prime Minister Singh met UPA allies over dinner tonight and has invited BJP leaders to his home tomorrow.

Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and L.K. Advani will dine with Singh and other senior ministers. Singh is expected to brief them on the business the government has lined up for the session and seek their support.

The government’s strategists are working hard to find a way of avoiding a showdown over retail FDI.

The government wants to buy time: it is planning direct cash transfer to a sizeable number of poor families in the next few months, and a populist budget next February.