M A I N   N E W S

Allies want Sonia to be PM
T.R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 16
The candidature of Mrs Sonia Gandhi as the Prime Minister of a Congress-led secular government was endorsed unanimously by the the pre-poll allies, the Left parties as well as the surprise presence of the the leaders of the Samajwadi party and Rashtriya Lok Dal at the conclave of non-NDA forces here this evening.

Armed with this backing, Mrs Gandhi will call on President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam tomorrow and stake the claim to form the government of a broad secular front with the Congress in the vanguard.

Disclosing this after a meeting of the leaders of all these parties keen to keep out of governance the communal forces, senior Congress leader Manmohan Singh said the draft of the common minimum programme will be prepared soon and distributed among “all the constituents for the comments and improvement.”

Senior Congress leader Manmohan Singh told the press that a resolution about Mrs Gandhi’s leadership of the alliance was adopted and acknowledged that Samajwadi party’s Amar Singh and RLD’s Ajit Singh also extended their support.

Mrs Gandhi’s name was proposed by DMK chief M Karunidhi and seconded by RJD’s Laloo Prasad Yadav, NCP’s Sharad Yadav as well as all the other leaders.

With the leadership issue out of the way with Mrs Gandhi being the obvious choice, the Left parties continued to face a huge divide within on being part of the governing apparatus.

CPM stalwart Harikishen Singh Surjeet, taking the lead in wbringing round Samajwadi party Mulayam Singh Yadav, sprang a surprise when he drove to Mrs Gandhi’s residence this evening with Mr Amar Singh and Mr Ajit Singh in tow.

Congress strategists had been active behind-the-scenes along with using the good offices of Mr Surjeet of tapping other secular forces in the event of the Left parties accounting for more than 60 seats extending support from outside.

The participation of the SP and the RLD in the Secular Front government will lend stolidity and the necessary cushion in terms of the arithmetic. The Congress is supporting Mulayam Singh Yadav’s government in Uttar Pradesh.

The SP has secured the maximum number of 36 out of 80 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh while the RLD has 3 seats.

The Congress is keen that the new government should take office by Wednesday.

The central committee of the CPM and the national executive of the CPI are continuing to debate about the advisability or otherwise about joining the coalition government. The view gaining ground in the CPM is that joining the government at the centre will have an adverse impact on the party in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura where the Congress is its main rival. At least the party’s leaders from Kerala are dead set against joining the Secular Front government.

A final decision in this regard will be taken by the two Left parties tomorrow. A key ingredient will also be the outcome of the deliberations on the contours of the common minimum programme focussing on disinvestment of PSUs, labour laws, generating employment and providing a human face to the economic reforms. There is, however, no ambiguity about the Left parties supporting a Congress-led arrangement from outside as a last resort to keep out the communal broadband headed by the BJP.

Another setback for the Congress is Mr Karunanidhi’s decision to extend support from outside for the present though Congress president Sonia Gandhi has impressed upon him to reconsider the decision. This will depend essentially on how the new government discharges its duties and responsibilities in the next few months.

It is apparent that the repeal of POTA and certain other issues affecting Tamil Nadu where assembly elections are due in the 2006 has been an overriding factor for the DMK which has won 16 seats in the 14th Lok Sabha.

Mr Vaiko’s MDMK, an ally of the DMK-led Democratic Progressive Front, which made a clean sweep of all the 39 Lok Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu and the lone one in Pondicherry, has decided not to join the government so that it does not have to compromise its policies. Mr Vaiko made it amply clear that their previous experience with the BJP-led NDA government had been disastrous.

As evidenced during Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s regime, the allies of the Congress and other smaller parties keen on joining the government inevitably want to pursue their own agenda, secure their pound of flesh and shoot from the shoulders of Mrs Gandhi.

An indication of this came from JMM chief Shibu Soren who was elected leader of his parliamentary party when he demanded proper representation in the Congress-led government to meet the aspirations of the tribals. The JMM has a strength of 5 MPs in the Lok Sabha.

Mr Karunanidhi, who arrived in the capital from Chennai this morning, met Mrs Gandhi and offered his party’s letter of support addressed to President A.P.J Abdul Kalam. He told Mrs Gandhi that the DMK required more time to make up its mind about joining the government.

As expected Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav was elected leader of his parliamentary party. Though his joining the government is not in doubt, the RJD parliamentary party nevertheless authorised their leader to take a decision about joining the government. Mr Yadav was categoric that the government should be formed early.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister V P Singh and Lok Janshkati leader Ram Vilas Paswan made a joint appeal to DMK leader to strengthen the government by joining it. Mr Singh hoped it will not be long before Mr Karunanidhi takes a positive decision.

There have been intense confabulations throughout the day between and among the pre-poll allies of the Congress in the run up to the evening’s discussions at Mrs Gandhi’s instance after which she is a hosting a dinner. The RPI (A) leader Ramdas Athawale also met Mrs Gandhi earlier in the day and extended his support for her Prime Ministership.

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