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Gujarat fallout: Time for old debates

New Delhi, Dec. 26: The Congress’s defeat in Gujarat could revive old debates on reforms and the need for an inclusive foreign policy rather than one that is “US-centric”, senior party leaders said today.

“If there is one lesson the Congress needs to draw immediately, it is that we must not deviate from our ideological lines which were firmed up after long and intense debates and with enormous foresight and an understanding of India’s complexities,” said a veteran general secretary.

“These are secularism, pro-poor economic policies and a foreign policy which gives as much importance, if not more, to developing countries and not just the so-called developed ones. We must also look at the strategy of coalitions and see if it is in the party’s long-term interest to pile up all kinds of allies and induct deserters from other parties.”

Sources said the Congress Working Committee could meet in the first week of January to assess the outcome of the elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh.

The Himachal verdict will be known on Friday and a defeat, the sources said, would strengthen the voices of traditionalists like Arjun Singh, B.K. Hariprasad, Digvijay Singh, Janardhan Dwivedi, Margaret Alva, Mukul Wasnik, Prithviraj Chavan, Ajit Jogi and C.K. Jaffer Sharief.

The sources said the resurrection of the traditional “line of thinking” — buried in the heap of laudatory certificates the party has showered on the United Progressive Alliance government since 2004 — could well impact the fate of the Indo-US nuclear deal.

So far, the Congress has endorsed the deal from the highest forums and succeeded in silencing dissenters who wondered whether it was worth going ahead when the Left, a crucial ally, had warned the government against activating the pact.

But things might change now. After the Gujarat setback, the government, sources said, will be under pressure to “go slow” on the deal.

Negotiators from the atomic energy department and the external affairs ministry will visit Vienna in early January for the third and, perhaps, the final round of negotiations. The government will brief the Left through the designated UPA-Left panel on the pact after which its trajectory will be known.

The “reformists”, on the other hand, argue that because the nuclear deal was projected as a “highpoint” of the government, the UPA should not go back on it because the Left wants it.

This section’s thinking was that one of the big plusses in Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s favour was his gung-ho approach to reforms without getting entangled in ideological issues.

“His style of governance is seen as strong and uncompromising. If he’s going to be projected at the Centre on the same plank, should we appear as weak-kneed, bumbling fools?” a source said.

Himachal broom

In Himachal, the Congress today expelled 45 leaders for working against the party’s official candidates in the Assembly elections.

State unit chief Viplov Thakur expelled them for six years, a party release said.

“These rebels caused great harm to the party by working against the official candidates in the just-concluded Assembly poll and have attracted severe disciplinary action,” Thakur said.

Last week, 14 party leaders, including the general secretary of the state unit’s youth wing, had been expelled.

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