The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Congress refuses to show cards
Vishnu Kanti Shastri

New Delhi, Aug. 25: The Congress today weighed its options in the largest state of Uttar Pradesh as the collapse of the third BJP-supported Mayavati government, ahead of crucial parliamentary elections next year, came as a big relief to the party.

Within hours of the collapse of the BSP-BJP coalition in Lucknow, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi was huddled in a meeting with senior AICC functionaries and state leaders.

Among those present were state party chief Jagadambika Pal, legislature party leader Pramod Tiwari, senior state leaders such as Salman Khursheed, Mahabir Prasad and Motilal Vora, who is party treasurer and a former governor, and Sonia’s political secretary Ahmed Patel.

Once the consultations were over, the leaders were willing to say only what the Congress did not want happening in the state. The party, they said, was opposed to the Assembly’s dissolution and imposition of President’s Rule.

They did not, however, say whether Mayavati should be allowed to continue as caretaker chief minister or whether the party should categorically support an alternative government led by Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav.

Congress chief spokesman Jaipal Reddy chose not to mention either the BSP or Mayavati as he attacked the BJP’s decade-long “unprincipled politics” in the state. He said the last decade was the “story of the rise, decline and fall” of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh.

When asked about the alternatives before the Congress now, Reddy merely iterated the party’s known position. “Even before this development, we were party to a memorandum of the Opposition to the governor. We were for exploring the prospects of a secular alternative to the BSP-BJP government. We are ready for it even now.”

Asked who should be called to form the alternative government, he said: “In a coalition, naturally the leader of the largest party stakes claim.”

He avoided plugging for Mulayam categorically and chose to emphasise the party had only a limited role as “we are not a big force in the Assembly”. It was not clear whether all this meant the Congress was opening up to the option of getting closer to the BSP.

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