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Decks cleared for Sonia-led govt
Modalities to be worked out today
T.R. Ramachandran
Tribune New Service

New Delhi, May 15
The decks were cleared today for a fourth member of the Nehru-Gandhi clan in Congress president Sonia Gandhi assuming the high office of Prime Minister though the CPM and CPI kept up the suspense whether they will be part of the non-NDA government of secular forces.

There was never any doubt of Mrs Gandhi being unanimously elected as Leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party. The motions of going through this formality were completed in quick time here this afternoon. The two major Left parties had played their part in sidelining the foreign origin issue of Mrs Gandhi. They also made it clear in unambiguous terms that it is for the Congress or any other party to choose its leader.

The focus now shifts to the nitty gritty of government formation with the Congress as the single largest entity in the vanguard of the secular grouping confident of arming itself with the letters of support from all its allies by tomorrow.

There is still some prevarication from Telengana Rastra Samiti as its leader K. Chandrashkhar Rao explained that they would join the government both at the Centre and in Andhra Pradesh only if they have firm assurances that there will be no dragging of the feet on the formation of a Telengana state. He was against this issue being referred to another Commission on the Reorganisation of States as that will be nothing short of delaying the matter. The TRS has won the plank of carving out a Telengana state within six months.

The Lok Jan Shakti party chief and former Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan and JMM leader Shibu Soren called on Mrs Gandhi and offered their letters of support. Keen to join the Congress-led arrangement on the Raisina hill, Mr Paswan urged other like minded parties to follow suit. He also demanded scrapping of the disinvestment ministry. He desired formation of smaller states but desired that consensus should be evolved on such matters.

However, the crucial meeting of the Congress and its allies as well as the Left parties scheduled for tomorrow will discuss the modalities of government formation. The participation of the Left parties in the government is crucial for stability despite being ranged against the Congress in Kerala, Tripura and West Bengal.

This conclave is also expected to consider whether the coalition arrangement should have a steering committee or a coordination committee or some other mechanism to deal with contentious issues and serious disagreements on core policy issues.

In her brief thanksgiving to the CPP, Mrs Gandhi said she felt greatly privileged and impressed upon her flock to understand the mandate. Let us each acknowledge that the people of India have chosen us to represent their aspirations, not our own. The people have decisively rejected the destructive and self serving policies of the BJP-NDA government.

Remembering Panditji, Indiraji and Rajivji, Mrs Gandhi observed that even as the Congress provides the pivot for the coalition, it will be our endeavour to respect and work closely with our allies and partners.

As the leader of the Congress and underlying the importance of the Left parties being partners in a secular government, Mrs Gandhi took the first opportunity of driving down to the CPM office for a meeting with veteran Marxist leader Jyoti Basu and formally reiterating her invitation to the party to join the government.

Mr Basu acknowledged that Mrs Gandhi had come to invite the CPM to join the Congress-led coalition government. I have no objection to Mrs Gandhi becoming the Prime Minister. He failed to understand how objections can be raised against Mrs Gandhi as there is no section in the Constitution debarring her. She cannot build a Roman Empire. She is an Indian citizen, he emphasised.

Opinion in the Left appears to be in favour of joining the Congress-led coalition amid apprehension in certain sections that this can harm their interests in states where they have the upper hand and pitted against their rivals the Congress. Nevertheless, CPMs Sitaram Yechuri sought to underplay the serious differences with the Congress about the ongoing economic reforms.

Mr Yechuri said they were not against reforms but this programme should help the masses and not a handful of capitalists. Besides, the imbalances pursued by the NDA government must be removed.

CPIs A.B. Bardhan also echoed similar views and said a decision on joining the government or otherwise will be taken tomorrow. In the case of the CPM, the decision of either joining the government or steering clear of it will have to be ratified by the central committee which is expected to meet on Monday.

The Samajwadi party which has changed tack on the foreign origin issue of Mrs Gandhi is expected to fall in line with the decision of the CPM. His meeting with Mrs Gandhi and CPMs Harkishen Singh Surjeet playing the role of power broker to keep the communal forces out of the government at the Centre have been reflective of the wide smiles provided during a photo opportunity.
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