Thursday, July 10, 2003, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

Cong open to pacts with secular parties
Prashant Sood
Tribune News Service

Shimla, July 9
Taking another step towards forging alliances for Lok Sabha elections next year Congress president Sonia Gandhi today called upon secular political outfits to join hands with her party to oust the BJP-led NDA government. “The prevailing situation in the country makes it incumbent on all secular forces to intensify the efforts to evolve a strategy for combating communalism and religious fundamentalism for ensuring the defeat of the BJP and its allies,” Ms Gandhi said at the conclusion of the Vichar Manthan Shivir here.

On Ayodhya, Ms Gandhi reaffirmed her party’s position that the dispute must be resolved through the court and all parties must abide by the judicial verdict. She said the Congress was not against the facilitation of a negotiated settlement among the parties to the dispute but such a settlement should have complete legal sanction.

She said the Congress was committed to the Protection of Places of Worship Act 1992 which freezes the status of all places of worship other than that at Ayodhya as on August 15, 1947.

The issues of Ayodhya and coalition did not form part of the Shimla ‘Sankalp’ adopted by the party today but were taken up by Ms Gandhi in her speech. Describing the Shimla Sankalp as the party’s political charter, Ms Gandhi said that it was a milestone in the struggle “against the forces of communalism and fundamentalism, against the BJP, the RSS, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal that seek to destroy social harmony and the BJP-led NDA government that has proved to be such a colossal failure.”

Promising that the Shimla Sankalp will be implemented in letter and spirit, Ms Gandhi said she would welcome being held accountable for it. The party is likely to form a committee to monitor the implementation of the Shimla Sankalp.

On forging coalition arrangements, Ms Gandhi said it was the third since the party’s 1998 declaration at Pachmarhi of considering tie-ups only when absolutely necessary. It marks a significant shift in the Congress strategy for the Lok Sabha elections.

Having acknowledged the difficulties of coming to power at the Centre on its own, the Congress now has thrown open its doors for tie-ups which could take the shape of an alliance at the national level or in the states.

Senior Congress leaders have drawn up a three-stage plan for the party to regain primacy at the Centre. The first is to emerge as the single-largest party in the next general elections by winning at least 200 seats. The next is to form a government at the Centre with the support of like-minded parties and then to work towards getting a majority on its own.

The party leadership has made it clear that any coalition it enters into will be led by Ms Gandhi. The assertion is aimed at preventing potential allies like the NCP and the Samajwadi Party from raising the issue of Ms Gandhi’s foreign origin at a later stage. The leaders indicated that the initiative for talks for a coalition with the like-minded parties could be taken by the party.

“The final decision on alliances will be taken by Ms Gandhi,” they said.

The leaders said that the party could not have a uniform strategy on coalitions. “While we can have a pre-poll alliance in Uttar Pradesh where the political situation is multi-polar, there cannot be a pre-poll alliance with the Left parties as these are the principal opponents of the Congress in three states. The Left parties, however, are likely to support the Congress bid to power at the Centre to replace the BJP-led government,” a senior party leader said.

Of the four states — Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu — where the Congress is weak, the trickiest question is of forming a tie-up in Uttar Pradesh. The party leaders have not ruled out the possibility of a tie-up with the BSP in the event of its severing ties with the BJP.

In Tamil Nadu, the Congress leaders see the DMK as a possible ally if it comes out of the NDA.

The leaders said that even if about 200 Lok Sabha seats in the “weak states” were not taken into account, the Congress was “primarily contesting about 340 Lok Sabha seats. Even if we win half of these seats and get another 40 seats from the four states where the party is weak, we will cross the 200-seat mark,” a leader said.

He claimed that there had been sharp erosion in the popularity of the BJP in UP which would help the party.

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