The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia turns leaf, Pawar offers tea
- Cong chief sets up meet after 5 years

New Delhi, Jan. 14: History is being repeated, but with some twists.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who was a special invitee to the tea party that heralded the fall of the Vajpayee government five years ago, has been called for tea by the man who had revolted against her foreign origin.

Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar has invited Sonia to his 6 Gurudwara Rakabganj residence here tomorrow to discuss an alliance with the Congress — the party he had left in 1999 with two other leaders, P.A. Sangma and Tariq Anwar.

The invite followed Sonia’s call to Pawar last night, on the eve of the NCP’s national executive meeting. Pawar, whose party is a ruling partner of the Congress in Maharashtra, grabbed the chance.

“Sonia had a talk with Pawar and spoke to him with regard to the emerging political situation in the wake of the BJP-led NDA government’s moves to advance the Lok Sabha polls,” Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said.

“Pawar extended an invitation to Sonia for tea to discuss the political situation and other related matters, which she accepted, and the two leaders would meet tomorrow evening,” the spokesperson added.

Confirming his conversation with Sonia, Pawar said: “She told me that elections are round the corner and let us sit together and talk. I said my party’s executive committee is meeting tomorrow (Wednesday).”

The NCP executive tonight eased the way for tomorrow’s talks. After a three-hour meeting, the executive authorised Pawar to take a decision.

Sangma and V.C. Shukla, another former Congressman, expressed reservations about allying with the Congress, but other party leaders said a split has been averted for the time being.

NCP sources claimed that before taking a final decision on allying with the Congress, Pawar would sound Sonia on the possibility of “region-specific” deals to leave room for manoeuvre for his restive colleagues.

If Sonia and Pawar do meet tomorrow, it will be their first one-to-one session since they parted ways five years ago on the eve of the general elections. Both were present together at two dinners since then but there has been no direct contact. Sonia had also contacted Pawar once to canvass support for the Opposition’s candidate for Vice-President.

Sonia’s move to call up Pawar followed her party’s drubbing in the Assembly elections. Pawar’s hand was forced by the Shiv Sena’s thumbs-down to a BJP bid to rope in the NCP.

Tomorrow’s meeting is reminiscent of the tea party that Janata Party chief Subramanian Swamy hosted in Delhi on March 29, 1999. At the party, ADMK leader Jayalalithaa had promised an earthquake. The Vajpayee government fell the next month.

The quake eventually turned out to be a storm in the tea cup with Vajpayee returning to power.

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