The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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‘Natural’ leader Cong silent on leadership
Party prepares ground for hard bargaining

New Delhi, May 10: The Congress today asserted it would be the natural claimant to lead a non-NDA secular government at the Centre, positioning itself for hard bargaining if the numbers in the new Lok Sabha are in its favour.

The significant articulation over the leadership issue — the first time by the party — came from spokesman Abhishek Singhvi at the All-India Congress Committee headquarters just as polling for the final round ended at 5 pm.

“We are confident that there will be a non-NDA secular government led by the Congress party,” he said.

Singhvi, however, maintained a tactical silence on who would head a government led by the Congress. If the party gets a majority on its own, the candidate would obviously be Sonia Gandhi, he said. However, hardly anyone in the Congress expects the party to reach anywhere near the magic figure of 272.

About the possibility of the Congress supporting some other party or leader to form a government in case of a hung Parliament, Singhvi said “it is hypothetical and speculative”.

Singhvi iterated that there was no place for a third front. Nor would any other party in the Opposition or a combination of parties have enough numbers to stake claim to the leadership of a non-NDA government, he added.

The spokesman said the focus of a Congress-led government would be on employment and agriculture, “the two most neglected” areas in the past few years.

Anand Sharma, another spokesman, said a non-NDA secular and stable government headed by the Congress was inevitable.

“After the fourth round of voting, it is clear that people of India have decisively rejected the BJP-led government.... Our assessment is that the NDA is not getting majority,” he said. “In this situation, formation of a Congress-led secular and stable alternative is inevitable.”

Sonia, who interacted with senior colleagues during the day to deliberate on post-poll strategies, remained non-committal. “We should wait till results are out,” the Congress chief said as she emerged after casting her vote at the Nirman Bhavan booth in New Delhi constituency this morning.

Her son Rahul and daughter Priyanka, too, preferred not to speak much.

Rahul, who made his electoral debut from Amethi, which his mother vacated, said senior members of the party would decide on the issue. “My personal view is that the Congress party’s governing body (working committee) will look into the issue,” he said after casting his vote at the Nirman Bhavan booth.

Priyanka maintained that power was “not important” for her mother, brother and herself.

“My mother is doing her job (as Congress leader) to the best of her capacity. It (power) is not a priority for any of us,” she said.

Both Rahul and Priyanka sounded optimistic about the Congress making a return to power at the Centre. “We have put our heart into the campaigning. Three days remain for the results. Let us see,” Priyanka said.

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