The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Alliance cracks queer party election pitch
Sonia: Hunt for ‘like minds’

New Delhi, Feb. 2: Sonia Gandhi is keen to hold a meeting of “like-minded” Opposition leaders before the scheduled dissolution of the Lok Sabha on Friday.

But Congress leaders are not sure if the party chief and leader of the Opposition in the Lower House will be able to hold such a meeting. The uncertainty has a lot to do with the sudden difficulties the Congress is facing in cobbling together pre-poll alliances.

“If the meeting is held, it will not be because we have to work out floor co-ordination with other Opposition parties. With just three days left in the life of this Lok Sabha, there is nothing much that is required to be discussed on floor co-ordination. Such a meeting would make sense only in the larger political context of the coming elections,” a senior party leader said.

Sonia would dearly like to showcase a Congress-led alliance that can take on the National Democratic Alliance before the current Lok Sabha is dissolved.

But the party leadership is far from happy at the lack of headway in sealing alliances. Hence, when chief spokesman S. Jaipal Reddy was asked about the proposed meeting of Opposition floor leaders, he diffidently said it could be considered “depending on the convenience of the leaders of various parties. We have to first ascertain the convenience.”

The biggest setback in ally-hunting has been Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayavati’s sudden reluctance to have a pre-poll alliance with the Congress in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere in the heartland. Her stance has queered the pitch for the Congress, which needs tie-ups even to retain the eight Lok Sabha seats it has from the state.

The party may end up having to go it alone since the Samajwadi Party has repeatedly ruled out any pre-poll alliance. The Samajwadi stand may also diminish chances of roping in Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal, which is part of the Mulayam Singh Yadav-led coalition in Lucknow. Ajit Singh had tied up with the Congress during the last Lok Sabha polls.

The alliance uncertainty is not confined to Lucknow. Maharashtra, which accounts for 48 Lok Sabha seats, second only to Uttar Pradesh, is proving equally problematic.

The Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party has agreed in principle to a pre-poll alliance, but is turning out to be a demanding partner. Pawar kept away from a Sonia rally in Maharashtra, apparently because the parties had not been able to eke out an acceptable seat-sharing deal.

In Andhra Pradesh, where Assembly elections will be held simultaneously, the Telengana Rashtra Samiti has distanced itself from the Congress after enthusiastically seeking an alliance initially. It has threatened to renege on forging a pre-poll alliance if the Congress does not give it its “due” share of Lok Sabha and Assembly seats.

The Congress has learned in Tamil Nadu that seat-sharing pangs can be extremely painful. The party has tied up with the DMK, but the Dravidian outfit has allotted it what state Congress leaders term “losing seats”.

Its Pondicherry unit, sore over DMK chief M. Karunanidhi’s decision to allot the sole Pondicherry seat to the PMK, may go it alone in the Union territory. The Congress holds the seat and has won from the constituency in several Lok Sabha elections.

“If the seat is not given to us, we will be left with no choice but to field our candidate and confine the alliance just to Tamil Nadu,” a senior Congress functionary said.

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