The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Heartland tie-up woe for Sonia

New Delhi, July 10: Sonia Gandhi’s willingness to go in for alliances with like-minded “secular” parties may come as a shot in the arm for the Congress in Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu where it is weak, but observers believe the party will find it tough to cement an alliance there.

The Samajwadi Party said this week that the Kalyan Singh-led Rashtriya Kranti Dal was its only ally in Uttar Pradesh, but that it could rope in the Congress and the Rashtriya Lok Dal of Ajit Singh for a possible anti-BJP front.

While the Congress has gone soft on the Samajwadi, it has yet to overcome its reservations about Kalyan, who was chief minister when the Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992.

The Congress’ distaste for Kalyan was evident when its general secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh, Naval Kishore Sharma, arrived in Lucknow to assess the chances of toppling the Mayavati government after Ajit’s party withdrew support. Sharma was supposed to be part of a delegation urging the governor to convene a special Assembly session to test Mayavati’s strength. But on learning that the Kranti Dal was part of the team, the secretary kept away.

Samajwadi chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, who was to have headed the delegation, also stayed away. He let a second-rung leader replace him to give the impression that senior leaders had left the exercise to junior functionaries and not make Sharma’s absence a talking point.

With Sonia signalling that the Congress will adopt secularism as an election mantra and end its flirtation with “soft Hindutva” following the Gujarat debacle, Samajwadi sources doubt that a non-BJP, non-BSP front can assume power in Uttar Pradesh before the parliamentary polls.

They are hoping that if the Congress needs support to form a government at the Centre, the Samajwadi and the Kranti Dal could step in.

The DMK may have been the first party to welcome Sonia’s offer on alliances, but observers feel its support for the LTTE as well as the Jain Commission’s findings on Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination remain sticking points. Despite this, the DMK remains the Congress’ best bet in Tamil Nadu, with ADMK chief Jayalalithaa maintaining that people of “foreign” origin should not hold constitutional posts.

It is generally believed that a weak Congress will have to accept the Samajwadi and the DMK on their terms in Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, which account for 119 of 543 Lok Sabha seats.

But this is not the case in Maharashtra, where the party has started to flex its muscle vis-a-vis the Nationalist Congress Party.

Congress workers, who fear they may have to give up seats to their coalition partner when simultaneous Assembly and Lok Sabha elections are held, have begun speaking up against Sharad Pawar and his men.

But the NCP, whose national ambitions have been grounded after Pawar failed to make a mark at the Centre, appears to indicate that it is willing to reconsider its stand on Sonia’s “foreign” origin despite being the first to raise objections.

Party spokesman Vasant Chavan said in Mumbai today: “We have not abandoned our position on the foreign origin but we are willing to reconsider it since we feel that the topmost priority should be to defeat the fascist and communal forces.”

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