M A I N   N E W S

Congress adopts flexible stance
Anita Katyal
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 29
The Congress appears to be doing a tightrope walk on the contentious issue of who will lead the broad national alliance of secular parties that it is seeking to put together ahead of the next Lok Sabha elections.

Not wanting to scare away its potential allies, who are sceptical about projecting Congress President Sonia Gandhi as an alliance leader, the Congress has now adopted a flexible stance, saying it is for the people to decide the leadership issue. As a senior leader put it: “Sonia Gandhi has played down her candidature without actually withdrawing from the race,” while referring to her Mumbai remarks on this issue. This is a clear dilution of the Congress party’s Shimla declaration which made a categorical mention of a Sonia Gandhi-led secular alliance.

On the other hand, the Congress is not willing to relinquish its claims by handing over the leadership on a platter to the smaller parties. It, therefore, continues to maintain that as the single largest secular party, the Congress has necessarily to lead from the front with Sonia Gandhi as its leader.

Party spokesperson S. Jaipal Reddy even went a step further when he declared at his daily briefing today that there was no possibility of the Congress lending support to a Third Front government in the post-poll scenario.

Chastened by its recent defeats in the three Assembly elections and faced with the prospect of an early general election, the Congress has acknowledged that it needs the support of other like-minded parties to take on the BJP-led NDA. The Congress president reiterated her party’s willingness to join hands with other secular parties in her Mumbai speech on Saturday. In her subsequent press conference, Ms Gandhi indicated that it is for the people to decide the leadership of this proposed alliance.

At the same time, Ms. Gandhi sent out a clear message to leaders like NCP’s Sharad Pawar who keep raising the issue of her foreign origin. She made it amply clear that the leadership of each party is to be settled internally and that the choice of a leader could not be dictated to by another political party.

Fielding questions on the Congress President’s remarks, Mr Reddy steadfastly maintained that as far as the Congress is concerned, Ms Gandhi is their leader and remains its Prime Ministerial candidate. He also asserted that as the single largest secular party, the Congress has to assume the leadership of the proposed alliance upfront.

At the same time, Mr Reddy fudged the issue of the leadership of a non-NDA secular alliance. “We will have to talk about it with our other partners if we are to have an alliance.” he said, adding that the prospects of forging alliances will depend on the dialogue with others. Ms Gandhi’s statements in Mumbai, according to him, reflected her flexibility on the matter. The fact that Ms Gandhi is willing to continue the alliance with the NCP in Maharashtra shows the extent of her flexibility, he explained.

Explaining Ms Gandhi’s remark that the Congress will try for a compact alliance, Mr Reddy said this does not merely mean the formation of a front but implies solid understanding on ideological issues. It also implies that the Congress is for flexible arrangements which includes both pre-poll and post-poll alliances.


Project Narasimha Rao as PM, says Sangma

Shillong, December 29
Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Purno A. Sangma, terming as “too late” the Congress call for forging an alliance with secular forces to counter the NDA, today suggested that former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao could be a ‘match’ for BJP’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the Prime Ministerial candidate in the next general elections.

“P.V. Narasimha Rao is the ‘only’ man to match Vajpayee,” Mr Sangma said when reporters wanted to know his choice in the wake of Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s statement on Prime Ministerial candidate in Mumbai yesterday.

Stating that the NCP would not have its objection and ‘cooperate’ with the Congress provided the party ‘comes out clearly’ with its Prime Ministerial candidate except Ms Gandhi, Mr Sangma said, adding that since Mr Rao was acquitted of all charges, he should be the appropriate man and stood ahead of Mr N.D. Tiwari and Mr Manmohan Singh.

Describing as ‘too late’ the Congress decision of forging an alliance with secular parties in the country, Mr Sangma said the problem with the party was that it took ‘wrong decision too early’ and ‘right decision too late’.

“I don’t think there will be any takers for the call now,” he said, adding that the Congress had ‘ultimately’ come to understand the ‘reality’ that projecting Ms Gandhi as the Prime Ministerial candidate would lead it nowhere.

Mr Sangma said the NCP had convened its working committee meeting on January 12 in Delhi to discuss ‘seriously’ the ‘pre-poll scenario’ in the country in the wake of five Assembly elections and the Congress move.

Referring to the outcome of the recent Assembly elections in five states, the veteran leader said it showed Indian poll had become ‘presidential type’ where the fight focused between two top leaders like Uma Bharati versus Digvijay Singh or Khurana versus Dikshit or Ghelot versus Scindia.

Supporting the candidature of Mr Rao, the NCP leader said he was a ‘shrewd and successful’ Prime Minister of the country to complete the tenure despite being in a minority.

If the Congress was so serious about its secular front, it should project Mr Rao as its Prime Ministerial candidate.

Asked if the NCP working committee would discuss Mr Rao’s candidature issue, the party’s national general secretary said it was his ‘suggestion’ to the Congress. — PTI

HOME PAGE | Punjab | Haryana | Jammu & Kashmir | Himachal Pradesh | Regional Briefs | Nation | Opinions |
| Business | Sports | World | Mailbag | Chandigarh | Ludhiana | National Capital |
| Calendar | Weather | Archive | Subscribe | Suggestion | E-mail |