The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia so near, so silent
Support for PM post pours in

New Delhi, May 15: Sonia Gandhi today stood on the verge of achieving the unique distinction of the fourth member of a family to become the Prime Minister of a democratic country.

The Congress Parliamentary Party elected her its leader, a step away from being named Prime Minister. A majority of the allies, and the Left without whose support the Congress cannot run a government, have expressed support for her candidature.

Only Sonia is silent. She said in a speech to party MPs: “Very shortly a Congress-led coalition will be in place.”

“Let us each acknowledge that the people of India have chosen us to represent their aspirations, not our own. The people of India have spoken… They have asserted that the soul of our nation is inclusive, secular and united.”

Indications are that the Prime Minister of a Congress-led coalition will take oath either on May 17 or 19. Several pre-poll allies have already given the letter of support required for the Congress to stake claim.

After election as CPP leader, Sonia called on CPM leader Jyoti Basu. “As far as I am concerned, I have no objection to Sonia Gandhi becoming the Prime Minister. She cannot build a Roman empire. She is an Indian citizen,” Basu later said.

Before leaving for the CPM politburo meeting, that is discussing if the party should take a share of power, Basu said: “She came to see me. She wants us to join the government.”

In the politburo, Basu seems to be in a minority, which wants the CPM to participate in the government, in a rerun of 1996.

The decision of the Left is unlikely to be known before Monday. Southern ally DMK is also holding out.

Sonia has invited all pre-poll allies and the Left partners to a meeting at her residence on Sunday evening. She will host a dinner for them later.

Ambika Soni, a Congress general secretary, said that at the meeting Sonia would discuss with the allied leaders issues such as a nomenclature for the coalition, the common minimum programme and shape of the government.

A committee headed by Manmohan Singh is finalising a draft programme that is expected to be ready for the meeting.

“The Manmohan Singh committee is comparing the party manifesto with those of the two Left parties,” said a source. The draft is likely to be an updated version of the common minimum programme of the 1996 United Front that had been agreed to by the Left and vetted by the Congress.

At the brief but colourful meeting in the central hall of Parliament in the morning, presided over by Manmohan, Pranab Mukherjee proposed Sonia’s name for the CPP leader’s post.

Even before it was formally seconded, the gathering rose as one to endorse Sonia as the leader. As she entered the hall to thunderous applause, Manmohan announced her election.

Thanking the party for reposing trust in her leadership, she said as the pivot of the coalition, the Congress would make an earnest effort to respect and work closely with “our allies and partners”.

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