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Cong willing to join hands
with Mulayam in UP

Tara Shankar Sahay in Srinagar and agencies | June 01, 2003 01:26 IST

The Congress party on Saturday shed its earlier inhibition on coalition politics with party chief Sonia Gandhi contending that it was open to it.

Addressing a press conference at the conclusion of her party's two-day conclave of chief ministers in Srinagar, she said, "It is in the hands of the chief ministers and they give us inputs."

"We are certainly open to working with secular parties," she added.

But senior party leaders declined to comment whether the potential alliance between Congress and Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party could be a repeat of the fiasco in 1997.

Gandhi had then gone to Rashtrapati Bhavan to confidently tell (former) President K R Narayanan that she had the support of 272 Members of Parliament in Lok Sabha from various parties, sufficient to form the government.

The Congress chief, however, finally received a rude surprise when the Samajwadi Party chief backed off from supporting the Congress-led alliance at the Centre, enabling the National Democratic Alliance government of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to assume power.

It generated considerable bitterness between the Congress and the SP with both thereafter confronting each other with daggers drawn.

Gandhi's decision to again try out a coalition with like-minded parties has evoked mixed reaction from party leaders

"We have to be patient, our party leadership has fashioned the (electoral) strategy and there are many other aspects to be taken care of. We have agreed to work with secular parties for it (coalition) and that is in the right spirit," Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot told

"Oh, all that is history, it doesn't bother us now," he said, when reminded that the Congress endeavour to enlist the Samajwadi Party's support in 1997 had backfired.

Senior party leader Kamal Nath also felt that raking up the issue was like 'flogging a dead horse'.

"It is like crying over spilt milk and that is not our wont. It is not for nothing that our party is in power in 15 states under the leadership of Madam Sonia Gandhi. If we have decided on a certain strategy, we must have taken (it) after going through all possibilities," he said.

Another leader from Madhya Pradesh, not wishing to be identified pointed out that it was Mulayam who had approached the Congress chief for support and not vice-versa.

"He has also been given to understand that the alliance (Congress-SP), when it comes, will be even-handed. I don't think our leadership will leave any scope for others to take advantage," he said.

Gandhi's explicit statement favouring a coalition is a departure from the stand adopted by the party at the Pachmarhi conclave.

Sonia also clarified that the proposal of upper caste reservation for the economically poor was nothing new and had been earlier broached by the P V Narasimha Rao government.

Besides, it had also figured in the party manifesto in Uttar Pradesh during the assembly polls, she said.

Asked whether her party would support constitutional amendment to make the upper caste reservation a law, the Congress chief said it was for the government to set up a commission for the purpose and the Congress would support it.

Asked whether the Congress was willing to join hands with Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party and Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal, Sonia answered in the affirmative.

She said the opposition leaders had approached the Uttar Pradesh Governor Vishnu Kant Shastri for the dismissal of the state government headed by Mayawati.

She said a special session on Friday night had discussed the electoral strategy for the assembly elections scheduled in five states later this year.

In a candid admission, she acknowledged that the Congress was weak in a few states, including Uttar Pradesh, which had just witnessed a change of the leadership in the party.

She said all Congress chief ministers had praised Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot's fight against communal forces. "The Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal are bent on creating trouble in the states and rare trying to polarise and poison the people. We are countering them," she said.

"We are quite satisfied with the People's Democratic Party-Congress (Jammu and Kashmir) government and its performance," Sonia said.

Sonia said the government's contradictory statements on foreign policy issues generated much confusion.

But the Bharatiya Janata Party dismissed as 'day dreaming' the proposed 'grand alliance' between Congress, Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Lok Dal to oust the BJP-BSP regime in Uttar Pradesh and asserted the Mayawati-led coalition will complete its full tenure.

"The opposition is desperate and frustrated over its failure to oust the Mayawati government. Hence, they are indulging in daydreams. All their past attempts have failed, so will it be in future," party spokesman Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said.

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