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Congress prepares for final assault
Banking on Sonia for coalition formation
Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

New Delhi, May 11
As the Lok Sabha election draws to a close, the Congress party’s internal assessment has put its tally at about 160 seats that, its strategists feel, will give it the necessary head start to rope in new allies and bring its miffed partners back to the UPA fold.

Aware that this could prove to be an uphill task, the grand old party is banking on Congress president Sonia Gandhi to take the lead in this task, which will require considerable political skill and patience.

Sonia Gandhi will first have to mollify the partners like RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav, LJP president Ram Vilas Paswan and Samajwadi Party boss Mulayum Singh Yadav, who fell out with the Congress in the run-up to the election over seat-sharing in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

Since, these regional parties are not expected to do as well as they did last time, the Congress will have to scout around for new partners in order to reach the magic figure of 272 seats to form the government. This is what is going to prove really tricky, as the Congress could then have to look to its estranged ally, the Left parties, once again to make up the numbers and additionally, cast its net wider to get more parties on board.

“That’s when Sonia Gandhi will resume the role she had played in the 2004 elections. She will have to personally reach out to all the key players for the formation of the next coalition,” remarked a senior Congress leader, adding that the these party leaders personally hold her in high esteem despite their grievance with the Congress.

While AICC general-secretary and Nehru-Gandhi scion Rahul Gandhi’s recent overtures to the Left parties and rivals like the JD (U) and AIADMK upset their old allies, Sonia Gandhi herself has maintained a studied silence on post-poll. “She will make her moves after May 16, when the election results are out,” source said.

And it is the numbers that will eventually determine which party the Congress believes is worth pursuing. The Congress will be able to pursue parties like the BSP and AIADMK only if allies like the Samajwadi Party and the DMK do not have sufficient numbers.

“We will not be able to ditch the DMK, if it manages to get 10 to 12 sets. However, the rules of the game will change if it is decimated. In that case, it will be possible for us to do business with its rival AIADMK in Tamil Nadu,” remarked a senior Congress leader.

Similarly, the Congress will see the final tally of the Trinamul Congress or the Samajwadi Party to decide if these parties can be sacrificed in favour of their opponents like the Left parties and the BSP, respectively. This could prove to be a real challenge even for Sonia Gandhi. BSP leader Mayawati herself nurses Prime Ministerial ambitions while the Left parties have determinedly struck out at the Congress after they withdrew support to the Manmohan Singh government.

Lately, the Communists have softened towards the Congress but this could well be a strategic move, merely to confuse the Trinamul Congress voters and cadres before the final round of voting on May 13.

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