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Sonia as prime minister?

Rediff Election Bureau | May 13, 2004 21:41 IST
Last Updated: May 14, 2004 13:49 IST

A rather pleased looking Congress Party president Sonia Gandhi looks all set to form the next government.

When it came to saying so upfront, though, she continued to hedge.

Addressing a press conference a little while ago, Gandhi refused to directly answer any questions as to whether she would become the next prime minister of India.

"The leader of the Congress Legislative Party will be elected by its elected members on May 15. We are waiting for our elected candidates to arrive in Delhi," was all she would say.

She did add, though, in response to another question, that it was generally the norm that the leader of the largest legislative party -- in this case the Congress with 143 votes who became the prime minister.

Gandhi, who could become the second woman prime minister of India after her mother-in-law Indira Gandhi and India's first prime minister of foreign origin, said her party would begin talks with its allies tomorrow. She said the Congress had no objection to allying with "like-minded secular parties" and would begin talks with them after she finished consulting with her allies.

When asked if she, as the leader of the largest party, would be meeting with the President to stake claim to form the government, she smiled and asked the media to wait and watch.

Gandhi made it clear that she would continue with the dialogue the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government had initiated with Pakistan.

"We will most certainly continue with this policy," she said. "We have always supported the Vajpayee initiative in Pakistan. In fact, we are the ones who have been insisting that the NDA government initiate a dialogue with Pakistan. They were not willing to do so but we are glad that they have finally listened to what we have been saying. There is no question of not continuing dialogue with Pakistan."

When asked about the new government's stand on issues like POTA, she said that issues could only be tackled after a government had been formed.

Gandhi began the press conference by thanking the voters for the confidence they had reposed in the Congress and in like-minded parties despite a strong projection in favour of the BJP.

"This is the moment for the formation of the government," she said. "The Congress will take the lead in ensuring that there is a strong, stable, secular government in the Centre at the earliest."

The Congress and its allies have 212 seats and are leading in four more. The Left, who are expected to side with a Congress led alliance, have 63 seats. Mayawati, whose Bahujan Samaj Party has won 36 seats, has already offered to support the Congress provided her arch-rival Mulayam Singh is not made prime minister.

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