The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia mistress of coalition game
- Cong holds flock better than BJP

New Delhi, Sept. 27: For the six years the NDA was in power, its selling point other than Atal Bihari Vajpayee was that the BJP was naturally cut out to be the nucleus of a coalition as opposed to the Congress, which was seen as “too arrogant and individualistic” to acquire or hold on to allies.

Vajpayee managed to keep his flock of 24 parties together for four years by adhering to what his deputy L.K. Advani described as the “dharma of coalition”.

By the fifth year, the experiment gave way after the National Conference walked out, followed by the Indian National Lok Dal, the Lok Janshakti Party and the Rashtriya Lok Dal. By the time elections came, it had less than 20 parties left.

Asked by the Congress today how many allies the NDA was left with now, BJP vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi admitted: “I am afraid not too many, five to be precise.”

When in Opposition, the Congress debated long and hard whether it should fight elections solo or pick up allies. Party president Sonia Gandhi finally opted for an alliance with Manmohan Singh heading it.

Today, general secretary B.K. Hari Prasad said Sonia has become such a “dedicated votary” of coalition politics that when the Telengana Rashtra Samiti became the first party to quit the UPA, she was determined that no matter what, the Congress should not lose even one more ally.

“She appreciates coalition dharma in a way Vajpayee and Advani did not,” he said.

When Sonia decided to support the nomination of Sharad Pawar’s daughter to the Rajya Sabha, Supriya Sule sent a “thank you” note to the party. The Congress chief had ignored the “canard” that the Nationalist Congress Party leader would “manipulate” circumstances to install his daughter as chief minister. The buzz was that Supriya phoned Sonia after she was elected.

Before the chief ministers’ conclave in Nainital, Pawar “reciprocated” by calling on 10 Janpath to brief Sonia on the agriculture and food scene. He might have been hoping she would come to his rescue if the chief ministers gunned for him.

At a recent Congress Working Committee meeting on price rise, there had been a demand to remove Pawar from the agriculture ministry. But in Nainital, Sonia allowed the criticism to focus on finance minister P. Chidambaram.

In Uttar Pradesh, Sonia has asked party leaders to stop “personalised” attacks on Mulayam Singh Yadav, focus on issues of governance and law and order and stay neutral towards the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party.

There was a suggestion that the Congress should have an understanding with the BSP. “But the Congress president’s view was any kind of understanding with the BSP will have a huge price tag, and the Congress may be forced to forfeit 50 per cent or more of the seats,” a state leader said.

Sonia’s opinion was the Congress should focus on fighting all the seats and improving its position rather than striking alliances.

In Jammu and Kashmir, she was clear the Congress must stop playing footsie with the National Conference and consolidate ties with the People’s Democratic Party. Some state leaders were reportedly using Rahul Gandhi’s friendship with National Conference leader Omar Abdullah to buttress a case for breaking off with the PDP. Sonia stopped them in their tracks.

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