The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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At sea, Ajit looks for Sonia lifeline

New Delhi, May 28: Rashtriya Lok Dal leader Ajit Singh today met Sonia Gandhi for half-an-hour, setting off speculation on the emergence of a “broader” Opposition unity in Uttar Pradesh that could impact the BSP-BJP government in the state.

If the 14-member RLD pulls out, the Mayavati-led coalition will have a majority of just nine in the 403-member Assembly. As if to prepare the road, five RLD ministers resigned from the Mayavati Cabinet tonight.

Sources close to Ajit Singh, who recently resigned as Union agriculture minister, said he spoke about regrouping of forces that would include Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party, the Congress, Kalyan Singh’s Rashtriya Kranti Party and his RLD. Samajwadi general secretary Amar Singh also met Sonia today.

Congress sources said Sonia was “non-committal” and met Ajit Singh only because he sought an appointment after resigning from the NDA government. The Congress’ plan, they added, was to “wait and watch”. According to the sources, Ajit Singh’s overture was a “survival tactic” to keep his flock together by propping up the illusion of an alternative government in which the RLD would call the shots.

But given the Congress’ experience with toppling a government, party sources said the central leaders are cautious this time. The party had helped dislodge the Kalyan-led BJP government on the eve of the 1998 elections, but failed to sustain an alternative regime.

The Opposition in Uttar Pradesh, the sources said, is wary of Ajit Singh’s propensity to switch sides. But RLD sources claimed that Ajit Singh was in touch with the Samajwadi and Kalyan.

Mulayam is scheduled to arrive in the capital tomorrow and Kalyan on June 1. By that time, the Uttar Pradesh Opposition hopes that Ajit Singh would have taken a decision on withdrawing support to Mayavati.

Rather than toppling the government immediately, the Opposition is looking at a new equation for the Lok Sabha polls involving the Congress, the Samajwadi, the RLD and the RKP. “This is a formidable alliance,” conceded BJP general secretary Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. “Even without the Congress, they are strong.”

The number of MLAs in the four parties totals 176, 26 short of a majority in the Assembly.

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