M A I N   N E W S

Govt Formation
Cong may stick to old faithfuls
Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

New Delhi, May 17
As the Congress leadership initiated the process of government formation (possibly on May 22 as in 2004) and portfolio distribution, it came under increasing pressure from the party’s Bihar and Uttar Pradesh units to keep out the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Samajwadi Party (SP).

While party leaders have privately stated that only pre-poll partners of the Congress ought to be included in the government, two senior leaders - Digvijay Singh and Arun Kumar - made a strong case for the exclusion of the SP and RJD from the next government at today’s meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC).

Singh, AICC in charge of Uttar Pradesh, who was a strong votary of going solo in the Lok Sabha elections, told the meeting that it would be extremely unwise to take support of the Samajwadi Party at a time when the Congress is on the path of revival in this key Hindi heartland state. Bihar’s Arun Kumar also spoke in the same vein. Pointing to the manner in which RJD leader Lalu Prasad Yadav had humiliated the Congress by giving them only three seats, Kumar maintained that the party’s revival in Bihar would be severely hampered if it did not chart an independent course in this critical state. On the flip side, it is being argued that the Congress should not alienate Lalu Prasad Yadav as he has been an old and trusted ally.

Although there is no official word on the line-up of allies, the Congress leadership is credited with the view that the party does not require the help of any major party to reach the majority mark in the 545-member Lok Sabha and that it would be prudent to stick to its pre-poll partners. Since the UPA is only 10 short of the magic figure of 272, the Congress is inclined to make up the shortfall with the help of Independent members and smaller parties like the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and the Janata Dal (S).

All these issues are learnt to have been discussed at this morning’s meeting of the Congress core group, attended by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress President Sonia Gandhi, her political secretary Ahmed Patel and Union ministers Pranab Mukherjee, AK Antony and P Chidambaram. These matters will be further discussed with the party’s pre-poll allies, which does not include the RJD and SP, at a proposed meeting of the UPA later this week. “We will consult all our allies on our next course of action,” remarked a senior CWC member. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s candidature for the top job will be formally endorsed at this meeting.

This will be preceded by a meeting of the Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) on May 19 which will go through the formality of electing Sonia Gandhi as its chairperson and Manmohan Singh as its prime ministerial candidate.

It’s only after this process has been gone through that Manmohan Singh, armed with letters of support from allies, will approach President Pratibha Patil to stake claim for the formation of the new government.

While these formalities may take a few more days, a meeting of the Union Cabinet and the council of ministers has been slated for tomorrow morning, where the outgoing team will formally tender its resignation.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will subsequently hand these over to the President, clearing the decks for the formation of the new government.



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