The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cong shies off Sukh Ram

New Delhi, Jan. 10: Congress president Sonia Gandhi has set the ball rolling for the selection of party nominees for Assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh, Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland by convening a meeting of the party’s central election committee next week.

The Congress Working Committee is likely to meet here between January 14 and 16 to select nominees for the four states, party sources said. The Election Commission is expected to announce the poll schedule for the four states next week.

Sonia’s move to go ahead with the selection process is being seen as a signal that the party is shutting the doors on a formal tie-up with the Himachal Vikas Congress of former Union minister Sukh Ram.

A section of the Himachal Pradesh Congress leadership has been canvassing with the high command for an alliance with Sukh Ram to avoid a division of anti-BJP votes in about a dozen seats in and around his home district of Mandi.

The Congress also put an end to speculation of a tie-up with the Nationalist Congress Party in Meghalaya. NCP leader P.A. Sangma’s decision to contest all seats in the state meant the Congress will be on its own in Meghalaya despite the two parties being partners in the present coalition government, Congress spokesman Jaipal Reddy said.

However, ahead of the candidate selection process at the AICC level, the party today announced the much-awaited seat-sharing agreement with the INPT in Tripura.

AICC secretary in-charge of the state Mani Shanker Aiyer said the Congress would contest 42 seats, including two tribal seats, while the INPT would field its candidates in 18 tribal seats.

Sonia has already assigned the job of shortlisting probable candidates for the four states to some senior CWC members. The candidates thus selected will then come under consideration by the central election committee.

Indications are that in Himachal Pradesh, the high command would prefer to have an informal understanding with the HVC. But the most acceptable course, according to party leaders, would be to win over HVC MLAs to the Congress fold before the closure of the nomination process.

An AICC functionary pointed out that since corruption would be one of the party’s main poll planks against the Dhumal-led BJP government in the state, “we will have to think twice before identifying ourselves with Sukh Ram”.

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