The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia reaches out to DMK

New Delhi, Jan. 7: Taking the alliance-building process forward, Sonia Gandhi has deputed senior Congress leader Manmohan Singh to initiate formal talks with DMK chief M. Karunanidhi on sharing of seats in Tamil Nadu.

Congress chief spokesperson S. Jaipal Reddy, who announced Sonia’s decision soon after the working committee met here today to deliberate on the Lok Sabha poll strategy, said Manmohan would go to Chennai for seat-adjustment talks with Karunanidhi.

Manmohan, who will be accompanied by Tamil Nadu state Congress chief G.K. Vasan, is scheduled to reach Chennai tomorrow.

As the DMK would be leading the “secular alliance” in Tamil Nadu, Manmohan’s job, sources said, is to bargain with Karunanidhi for a respectable number of seats out of the 39 in the state.

His other task, the sources added, is to get a clear picture on the arrangement the DMK would have with other allies like the MDMK and the Left parties.

Apparently, the DMK is also making efforts to wean away the PMK from the central coalition.

Briefing reporters after the meeting, Pranab Mukherjee, who was with Reddy when the spokesperson announced Sonia’s decision, said an apex team has been set up under Sonia to initiate moves to reach “pre-poll alliances/adjustments with secular progressive forces to defeat the BJP-led NDA”.

The team, Sonia had herself told reporters, was already functioning informally. Mukherjee said the composition of the team would be announced soon. It has been learnt that senior leaders like Mukherjee, Manmohan and Natwar Singh are part of it.

Mukherjee said efforts would be made to ensure that alliances are firmed up by January-end. He replied in the negative when asked whether the meeting discussed state-wise alliance preferences of the party. The job would be done by the Sonia-led team, he said.

Replying to another query, Mukherjee conceded that the party was not expecting to clinch an all-inclusive secular alliance. “Unfortunately, it is not possible to have alliances with every party. That is why we are talking about alliances and adjustments,” he said.

Mukherjee said it was also decided at the meeting to set up an over-arching election management committee on the lines of the recommendations made by the panel he headed which probed the Assembly poll debacle. Sonia will head this committee as well. Under this committee, many sub-committees on publicity, campaign and media coordination would be set up, he added.

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