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|November 26, 1998||
CWC wants Sonia to take the plunge
George Iype in New Delhi
With the exit pols predicting major gains for the Congress in the assembly election, the party is set to make a bid for power at the Centre by luring away some of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's allies.
On Thursday, senior Congress politicians queued up at 10 Janpath to help president Sonia Gandhi chalk out a strategy to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party after the results are announced on Saturday.
Sources said the majority in the 23-member Congress Working Committee is of the opinion that if the party wins Delhi and Rajasthan, it should take the plunge to unseat the Vajpayee government and form an alternative government at the Centre.
"The mandate the Congress is expected to get in the assembly election is reason enough for us to lead a coalition arrangement," a senior Congress politician said, citing three reasons for this course of action.
First, he said, Sonia, aided by her negotiators like Arjun Singh, Dr Manmohan Singh, and Pranab Mukherjee, has reached a "workable arrangement" with the Left parties whose leaders have been publicly calling for a Congress-led coalition to take over from Vajpayee.
Second, the Congress is set to take some "strategic steps" during the winter session of Parliament, which begins on Monday, November 30, to rope in the BJP's estranged coalition partners like the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam of J Jayalalitha and the Trinamul Congress led by Mamata Banerjee.
Sonia is expected to send emissaries to Jayalalitha and Banerjee to seek their opinion about the possibility of forming a Congress-led government at the Centre with their help.
Though she has, in her eight months as party president, not officially asked any senior Congressman to negotiate with Jayalalitha and Banerjee for an alliance, sources say top Congress, AIADMK, and Trinamul politicians have been trying on their own to arrange separate meetings among the three < A HREF=http://www.rediff.com/news/1998/oct/23flip.htm>women.
A favourable election verdict is bound to strengthen Sonia's position within the party, and the Left parties as well as Jayalalitha and Banerjee are said to be more comfortable with her at the helm.
The third reason, according to the Congressman, is the possibility of a vertical split in two key members of Vajpayee's coalition: the Samata Party and the Biju Janata Dal. Senior politicians in the faction-ridden parties have apparently told the Congress leadership of their willingness to switch sides in the event the government falls.
CWC member Oscar Fernandes told Rediff On The NeT that the party will convene a meeting of its apex decision-making body soon after the results "to examine our strategy in the changed political circumstances".
"We are not concerned about the survival of the Vajpayee government. When the prime minister's coalition partners will soon start scheming to bring him down, why should we bother?" he remarked.
Thus far, despite pressure from senior party colleagues, Sonia has desisted from trying to put together a Congress-led coalition even when the Vajpayee government showed signs of faltering on several issues, arguing that it is better to sit in the Opposition for a while and re-build the party from the grassroots.
Indeed, Congress politicians say the favourable verdict owes a great deal to her deft handling of the party. "The assembly election has proved that she is capable of improving the state of affairs in the Congress. Therefore, Sonia is now fit to take over the government at the Centre," a Congress official said.
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