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January 9, 1998


Congress denies Sonia-Kesri loyalists's clash

The Congress has been at pains to deny that supporters of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi's widow Sonia and party chief Sitaram Kesri clashed.

Significantly, mediapersons witnessed one such clash at the party's student wing National Students Union of India meeting at the Talkatora Stadium in New Delhi.

The rift seems to have been fuelled by former Bihar chief minister and Rashtriya Janata Dal president Laloo Prasad Yadav's statement that the former prime minister's widow should not be in the prime ministerial race. Laloo Yadav is considered close to the Congress chief.

Resenting the remark, Sonia loyalists directed their ire against the Kesri camp at the Talkatora Stadium on Tuesday.

However, Congress spokesperson Najma Heptullah vehemently denied that there was any rift between Sonia and the party chief. ''The party is fully united,'' she said, adding that the media should not draw 'unnecessarily implications'.

Party joint secretary Major Ved Prakash elicited derisive laughter from the media when he sought to convince them that everything was hunky-dory in the party and that there were no differences between 10 Janpath and Kesri.

Even Kesri denied there was any rift in the party. ''I reiterate that the results of the general poll will be surprising,'' he said, declining to elaborate.

Kesri today described Sonia as the 'undisputed leader' and said the party's loyalty towards her was total.

''Forget it. All such accusations are lies. Soniaji is our leader and I am with her. People want to create misunderstandings regarding the leadership issue in the Congress. No such trickery will work,'' Kesri said, while addressing Congress Seva Dal workers.

He said he had requested Sonia that her participation in active politics was essential to strengthen secular forces. Even the Congress Working Committee had requested her to participate actively and it was a matter of ''pride and satisfaction that she has come out in favour of me as an elected president of the Congress''.

''I had told Soniaji a number of times that I won't live long. It should not happen that I go and there is a vacuum. We welcomed her earlier and we are welcoming her now. That is why the moment she announced her decision to enter active politics, I said I am relieved,'' he said.

Eulogising the Nehru-Gandhi family as a symbol of secularism, he said the Bharatiya Janata Party was ''scared and in a disarray'' that once again the family was active for the Congress cause.

Justifying the party's withdrawal of support to the United Front government, Kesri said there were three reasons why the Congress became disenchanted with the combine. One was that the UF always said the Congress had no alternative but to support it. The other was they never consulted the Congress on major national issues and the third was that the UF did not agree to the Congress demand of supporting the Mayawati government in Uttar Pradesh as she was a woman and a dalit.

''The flashpoint was that they did not agree to our demand of dropping the three Dravida Munnetra Kazagham ministers from their Cabinet following the Jain Commission findings which formed a sentimental national issue,'' he added.

As for Laloo Yadav's remark, Heptullah contended that he had no right to interfere in the Congress affairs.

Asked whether the Congress was part of Laloo Yadav's newly-formed Jan Morcha, Heptullah answered in the negative. She, however, said the party had seat adjustments with the combine.

UNI andTara Shankar Sahay in New Delhi


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Sonia's move sparks panic in UF, BJP
CWC targets Kesri
Sonia takes the plunge

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