M A I N   N E W S

Sonia meets Surjeet, speaks to Karunanidhi
Anita Katyal
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 30
Following up on her public declaration on the formation of a national secular alliance, Congress President Sonia Gandhi today took the first concrete step in that direction.

She had a 40-minute meeting with CPM leader Harikishan Singh Surjeet at his residence and followed it up with a telephone call to DMK leader M. Karunanidhi to congratulate him on his decision to leave the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

Congress leaders maintained that her meeting with Mr Surjeet was bascially meant to “tie the loose ends” and lay the groundwork for an understanding ahead of the general elections. Her telephonic conversation with Mr. Karunanidhi was meant to “break the ice” as it was her first direct contact with the DMK leader after she entered politics.

Although the two parties have had strained relations in the past, they are now trying to build bridges with the Congress having identified the DMK as a potential ally in Tamil Nadu and Mr Karunanidhi publicly welcoming Ms Gandhi’s statements on the formation of a secular alliance.

The Congress had accused the DMK of being soft on the LTTE and had withdrawn support from the United Front government when the then Prime Minister I.K.Gujral had refused the Congress demand for the removal of the DMK ministers.

Ms Gandhi’s initiative comes days after her public rally in Mumbai where she clearly signalled her party’s willingness to join hands with other like-minded secular parties in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. She then followed it by saying that the choice of the leadership of this proposed alliance be left to the people.

The need for the formation of a broad secular alliance has also been underlined by the Pranab Mukherjee committee report which has also suggested that Ms. Gandhi take the initiative in this regard. Senior Congress leaders maintained that the Congress President had decided to lead from the front and personally take up the task of coalition-building.

“The Congress had declared at its Shimla conclave that it is open to poll alliances. Ms Gandhi reiterated the party’s position at Mumbai. Today’s conversations should be seen against this background,” remarked AICC General Secretary Ambika Soni.

Ms Soni also indicated that the Congress president would be deputing senior leaders to follow up on her initiative. She admitted there would be roadblocks ahead in building such a coalition but felt the process has been set in motion as people are talking to each other. In fact, she maintained that these talks had been going at different levels since the Shimla conclave.

Ms Soni also indicated the Congress leadership’s keenness to forge such an alliance, stating that in the larger interest of forming a secular alliance, the party “may even give up something.” Clearly hinting that the Congress is open on the issue of the leadership of this proposed alliance, Ms Soni said, “To take two steps forward, we are willing to take one step back.” 


Sonia must lead on forging alliances, says
Pranab report
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 30
While recommending that the Congress take urgent steps to forge a national secular alliance with other like-minded parties, the Pranab Mukherjee report asked to review the recent Assembly results and suggest corrective measures has said that Congress President Sonia Gandhi herself take the lead in this matter.

The five-member committee, which submitted its report to Ms Gandhi today, undertook a detailed analysis of the recent Assembly results, pinpointed the various reasons for the party’s poor showing and suggested a series of steps for gearing the AICC and the state party units into election mode.

On the formation of alliances, the report said the Congress should fight the communal, divisive forces in the Lok Sabha elections in association with other secular, progressive forces. To this end, the committee said, the task of identifying the partners and initiating talks with them be taken up “with all deliberate speed”, preferably within the month of January.

In this connection, the committee is learnt to have suggested that Ms Gandhi set up a core group of senior leaders who should be deputed with the specific task of talking to specific potential allies. However, it has also said the first step in this direction be taken by Ms Gandhi herself instead of relying solely on “ambassadors and emissaries.” “After initiating the dialogue, the details can then be worked out by the others, “ said a Congress leader.

The committee members, who spent an hour with Ms Gandhi discussing the report’s main findings and proposals, suggested that election management committees be set at all levels in order to streamline the election process. Here again, the committee said, the national-level panel be headed by Ms Gandhi.

Describing the Congress party’s campaign as amateurish, the report said that professionalism should be inducted into all dimensions and levels of election work. The report suggests that special teams be constituted to look into the reasons for the loss of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe support to the Congress which, the committee said, is worrying.

The committee has steered clear of indulging in a blame game though it has indirectly mentioned that some AICC office-bearers handling election work might have been overburdened. “This was an inquiry, not an inquisition, “ remarked Lok Sabha MP Mani Shankar Aiyer, one of the committee members. The other members were Prithviraj Chavan, Priyaranjan Dasmunshi and Bijoy Handique.

However, party leaders have been put on alert as they will be held accountable for candidates whose cause they champion. This suggestion follows the committee’s feedback about faulty selection of candidates and how chief ministers insisted on repeating sitting MLAs despite adverse reports about them.

The report has highlighted the use of national and regional satellite channels and city cable channels for election work. It has also been proposed that candidates be announced as soon as they are chosen instead of waiting till the last minute to notify the list of candidates.

Identifying the reasons for the party’s performance in all the states, the committee has noted that the massive seepage of the traditional solid tribal backing to the Congress is particularly worrying. In Madhya Pradesh, the report said, the staggering losses suffered by the party in the reserved seats reflected the poor implementation of the expectations roused by the promise of the Bhopal Dalit agenda.

In all cases, the report believes that with special attention to the tribal and SC vote, appropriate alliances and better discipline and team work, honing the election machinery and removal of organisational deficiencies, can enable the Congress to improve its performance in the Lok Sabha elections.

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