The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia signals Mulayam

Srinagar, May 31: The Congress is ready to form a national alliance to take on the BJP-led coalition ahead of the general election next year.

Uttar Pradesh, the party’s weakest and electorally most crucial state, might be the starting point.

Sonia Gandhi today said she was willing to team up with Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party and Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal to topple the Mayavati-led coalition and instal a new government, presumably under Mulayam.

“We are open to working with secular parties to defeat communal forces,” Sonia said at a news conference at the end of the two-day conclave of Congress chief ministers here this afternoon.

The party would have to discuss the issue in detail, she added.

Earlier, the Congress president said a Panchmarhi-like brainstorming session would soon be announced where the coalition issue could be discussed. The party had opened itself to the idea in Panchmarhi five years ago.

After Ajit, Mulayam and Amar Singh interacted with Sonia in Delhi, the three had met the Governor in Lucknow, ostensibly to seek the removal of the Mayavati government. AICC general secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh Naval Kishore Sharma accompanied them.

The Governor’s response was yet to be known, the Congress chief said, adding that the situation was “very fluid”.

Sonia admitted that Uttar Pradesh was a problem state for the Congress, necessitating the coalition option. She hoped that the Congress would be revitalised under newly-appointed state chief Jagdambika Pal and general secretary Naval Kishore.

Though there has been unending speculation that she might induct daughter Priyanka or son Rahul to revive the party in Uttar Pradesh, Sonia iterated that she would not force them. If they decided to join, “it would be entirely their decision”.

Sonia underplayed the issue of alliances for the November Assembly elections in Congress-ruled Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh and the non-Congress state of Mizoram. She said it was up to the chief ministers and the state Congress chiefs to decide.

She, however, discussed poll strategy with the four chief ministers last night. A plan has been worked out, she said. But neither Sonia nor party spokespersons revealed details.

She repeatedly avoided any comment on senior party leader Arjun Singh’s allegation that the party was beset with groupism. “I would rather not comment.”

In her 45-minute news conference, Sonia underscored her resolve to help revive normal life in Kashmir. She favoured dialogue with all sections but avoided a direct reply when asked if the Congress favoured conversion of the LoC into an international border to find a lasting solution.

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