The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Singing solo is a divaís dream but not always the best tactic on the political stage. It has taken the Congress president, Ms Sonia Gandhi, some time and a few knocks to realize this. Without doubt she is the Congressís only diva or leader of any kind. It is also true that the Congress is the single biggest opposition to the Bharatiya Janata Party and the National Democratic Alliance. But the Congress, whether Ms Gandhi likes it or not, is only a shadow of its former self. There are provinces in which the Congress is virtually non-existent as a major political player. It has been clear to most people, save the Congress leadership, that the Congress cannot take on the BJP and the NDA alone. Despite being the self-proclaimed defender of secularism, it is no longer able to defend its own turf and when required protect the minorities. The events in Gujarat are witness to this. And the propensity to push a so-called soft saffron line in Gujarat also puts a question mark on the Congressís secular commitments and credentials. Faced with this reality, the Congress has decided to review its position and change tracks. The immediate context of this is the emerging situation in Uttar Pradesh where the exit of the Rashtriya Lok Dal from Ms Mayavatiís government has opened up the possibility of new political equations.

The Congress is now receptive to the idea of forming a coalition with like-minded secular parties. The most important partner that the Congress is looking at is the Samajwadi Party. This suggests that the Congress is seeing the stage of UP politics as one in which a dress rehearsal of coalition politics can be carried out. But one Samajwadi Party does not make a coalition. The Samajwadi Party does not have any major presence and influence outside of UP. In Bihar, the Congress can seek out Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav as an ally, but such an alliance will come with a baggage of corruption charges and gross abuse of power. In parts of south India too, the Congress will have to forge new alliances. Moreover, the results of the assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan will determine the leverage the Congress can actually exercise. Ms Gandhi has moved in the right direction by seeing herself and the Congress as part of a political choir. She will have to ensure that her voice is heard and that the choir does not become a cacophony. These are, of course, early days. Neither a Congress-Samajwadi Party alliance nor the nature of the alliance is clear at the moment. But, like Rip Van Winkle of the legend or like Kumbhakarna of the epic, the Congress has woken up. That is a start.

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