The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia steam for Laloo battle
- Cong chief to campaign with RJD boss

New Delhi, Sept. 23: Sonia Gandhi will play a leading role in the United Progressive Alliance’s campaign for the crucial Bihar Assembly polls, slated to begin in October.

In the February elections, she had confined herself to a “token” campaign, appearing in just a few constituencies where Congress candidates were in the fray.

The move was in keeping with the Congress’s policy of “equidistance” from Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Laloo Prasad Yadav and his rival Ram Vilas Paswan, the Lok Janshakti Party president.

This time, she will campaign for Congress candidates as well as those from the RJD, which is leading a truncated UPA in the state, with its other two constituents being the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the CPM.

Sonia will kick off with a few “region-wise” joint rallies alongside Laloo Prasad, NCP chief Sharad Pawar and other top alliance leaders.

Her plans, announced today by party spokesman Abhishek Singhvi, should embolden Laloo Prasad and deny him any reason to complain against the Congress this time if things go wrong at the hustings.

The decision for a more intensive campaign has partly been prompted by the Congress’s fears that Paswan’s “go it alone” course might split the “secular” votes, hurting the UPA and benefiting the Janata Dal (United)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

“Despite our best efforts at bringing all secular forces together, Paswan is going separately,” Singhvi complained today. “His approach may split secular votes and strengthen communal forces. Paswan’s ekla chalo stand is neither desirable nor justifiable.”

The Congress spokesman, however, expressed confidence that his party’s coalition will win the poll. “Our alliance is the main force,” he declared. “It will be strong enough to defeat the communal forces in the coming elections.”

Singhvi said the UPA constituents had worked out the seat shares and also identified the constituencies each ally will contest. The details will soon be announced in Patna.

Apparently, Laloo Prasad has given the Congress 51 seats, two less than what it had asked for.

A panel headed by Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh has already shortlisted probable candidates, who will now be vetted by the party’s central election committee, headed by Sonia.

Paswan has formed a separate alliance with the CPI, Revolutionary Socialist Party and the Forward Bloc. The coalition, which enjoys tacit support from the CPI(ML), is as much against the NDA as against Laloo Prasad.

In the past few days, signs of strain have emerged in the NDA over seat shares, with the Dal (U) accusing the BJP of “breach of trust”.

The BJP, on the other hand, has objected to the Dal (U) giving away seats to those who broke away from Paswan’s party after the Assembly was dissolved in May.

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