The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Dinner tickles tieup taste buds
- Wary of BJP, Sonia and Mayavati tight-lipped about two-hour dialogue

New Delhi, Feb. 16: Sonia Gandhi and Mayavati have met again, but nobody is willing to guess the outcome this time.

After the two previous false starts of January 15 and 31, both the Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party are tightlipped about yesterday’s unannounced dinner meeting at 10 Janpath.

While the two leaders refused to comment, BSP spokesman Sudhir Goyal simply said: “I can only confirm that Mayavati had over a two-hour dinner meeting with Sonia Gandhi last night and they exchanged political notes.”

Hope, however, has been rekindled as was evident from Congress veteran Pranab Mukherjee’s remarks. “It (a tieup) is not on, but not off yet,” he said. “I am hopeful of (the party) forging an alliance with the BSP. Talks are still on.”

Reacting to a question, Mukherjee further said “it (a likely alliance in Uttar Pradesh) may extend beyond one state like the one we have with the Nationalist Congress Party”.

“Whenever there is a forward movement, it would be announced. However, it would be difficult to announce how far we have advanced at this juncture,” he said.

On January 15, the Congress chief had called on her BSP counterpart to greet her on her birthday and presented her a bouquet. Mayavati then invited Sonia to dinner on January 31, following which there was a buzz that an alliance was certain.

Two days later, however, Mayavati called a news conference to rubbish media reports of a tieup between the two parties.

She described her meeting with Sonia as “routine” and called herself the “second daughter” of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Mayavati had also hinted at the likelihood of doing business with the BJP again.

After the U-turn on February 2 and with BJP spies allegedly prowling around to wreck the Congress’ chances of striking alliances, the media was kept away from last night’s strict one-to-one meeting held between 10 and 12.

Later, the parties’ once-bitten-twice-shy media managers only provided the pros and cons of an alliance in Uttar Pradesh.

Some BSP leaders, who have learnt a thing or two from the ultra-secretive Mayavati and were angry at the earlier premature leak of news on a likely pact, were heard blasting “second-rung” Congress leaders for providing the media with conjectures.

Sources from Lucknow said at least a section of Muslims in Uttar Pradesh want Mayavati to go with the Congress.

“If there is no Congress-BSP alliance, it will create doubts in the minds of the minority community (on whether a post-poll Mayavati will again embrace the BJP),” said a source.

“Even Dalits are growing restive about Mayavati’s flip-flop as going it alone may benefit Mulayam Singh Yadav and the BJP more than the BSP,” added the source.

The “hopes” notwithstanding, BSP sources said the party has gone ahead with the shortlisting of candidates. “We have already selected a number of candidates in Uttar Pradesh, a sizeable number of them Muslims,” one of them said.

The BSP had surprised election analysts in the 2002 Assembly polls by emerging second in the state by fielding candidates along caste and religious lines.

Though some cynics still feel that last night’s interaction was meant to convey Mayavati’s inability to forge an alliance with the Congress, her latest meeting at her own initiative — 15 days after the fiasco — has revived speculation that “well-meaning interlocutors” have been at work.

They have reportedly succeeded in conveying to the Dalit leader that it was in the interest of both parties to join hands.

According to BSP sources, the party knows that an alliance with the Congress would prove formidable in the heartland state, pushing Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi Party into a corner.

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