The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Congress opens up to alliance

New Delhi, Jan. 5: Reflecting on the Gujarat debacle, the Congress today fell back on the Panchmarhi stand of seeking poll adjustments with like-minded parties outside the NDA to fight the BJP in the polls to nine states this year.

A marathon meeting of the Congress Working Committee at the AICC headquarters here today also decided to confront the BJP’s electoral planks of Hindutva and terrorism by exposing the Centre’s failure in ensuring national security.

The extent of organisational changes which Sonia Gandhi would effect both in the AICC and PCCs was not immediately clear.

But changes to equip the party for the political and electoral challenges this year are very much on the cards.

After the nearly eight-hour-long meeting, Sonia said her party was aware that the BJP and the Sangh parivar would very likely communalise and polarise people in the run-up to the Assembly polls.

“We will have to be vigilant not only in these states but in every state,” she said.

Himachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Tripura will go to the polls in February and five other states will follow later this year.

The message was particularly conveyed to the 10 Congress chief ministers who attended the CWC meet.

The chief ministers of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Delhi were warned about the BJP’s likely attempts to repeat the Gujarat “experiment” before the December polls.

Sonia said the Congress strategy for the Assembly polls —when the party will fight to retain most of the states — was discussed at length.

The need for “secular unity”, too, cropped up, AICC general-secretary Ambika Soni said.

According to sources, the Gujarat debacle was discussed for long, when several CWC members grilled Kamal Nath, the AICC general secretary in charge of Gujarat.

The party, however, avoided blaming any leader for the defeat. Sonia said the CWC did not draw any conclusions because “we require additional information” on the Gujarat poll. Manmohan Singh has been asked to prepare a report on the poll, she said.

According to Sonia, the defeat could be attributed to the BJP’s “communal and negative campaign” and had nothing to do with any soft Hindutva drive by the Congress.

Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot was asked to explain the three bypoll defeats in the state.

The Congress’ failure to make adjustments in Gujarat with parties other than the two Left parties, too, was reportedly discussed. The decision not to share seats with parties such as the Nationalist Congress Party was attributed to the state leadership that considered ground realities.

Congress spokesman S. Jaipal Reddy said seat adjustments with like-minded parties would have to be based on a reasonable assessment of ground realities.

The party, he said, was open to pre-poll alliances in all states, including Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Himachal Pradesh.

A two-page resolution made it clear that the party would aggressively confront the BJP in the coming days over its Hindutva and terrorism campaign.

Despite the Congress’ full support, the Centre had failed to enhance national security or stop cross-border terrorism, the resolution said.

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