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Congress takes U-turn, set to bite coalition bullet

Rajesh Ramachandran

Tuesday 8 July 2003, by RAMACHANDRAN*Rajesh

Article paru dans le Times of India, ?dition du mardi 8 juillet 2003.

SHIMLA: From the commanding heights of single party rule to the humbling realisation of a fractured polity, the Congress has come a long way from Pachmarhi to Shimla.

The Congress seems to have accepted that the coalition era is not a "transient phase" in Indian politics, as it had diagnosed in Pachmarhi five years ago, but something more enduring.

Nevertheless, the Congress is still hesitating to commit itself to a Second Front to fight the ruling National Democratic Alliance in the next general elections. The draft of the ’Shimla Sankalp’ which, after the discussion in the plenary of 260 delegates, will be ratified by the Congress working committee, avoids a direct commitment.

Instead, the Congress will authorise its president, Sonia Gandhi, to initiate discussions with other secular parties in order to defeat the "fundamentalist forces". This formulation, aimed at giving the party elbow room for future negotiations and political manoeuvring, was added to the original draft on coalitions discussed here on Monday and Tuesday morning.

The draft had merely noted: "Consistent with the decision taken in Pachmarhi in 1998 the Congress party is prepared wherever necessary to enter into pre- and post-electoral arrangements with other parties on the basis of a principled programme without in any way compromising with the basic principles and policies of the Congress party."

Though some Congress leaders sought to leave the issue open-ended, it is evident that the party is not in any way opposed to alliances in the weak states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Tamil Nadu.

In fact, barring a few from the Gangetic plain, most of the delegates in the political committee spoke in favour of alliances. The Congress supremacists from UP stuck to their hard-line. Some wanted Mulayam Singh Yadav to "beg for an alliance". Others wanted the "slippery" regional parties to be tackled only at the state level. All this led other Congress leaders to poke fun at their UP colleagues.

"They are opposed to alliances, simply because they are wary of their partymen joining the potential ally if the alliance in the state is declared in advance," said a Congress leader.

Yet, the UP leaders put firm conditions on any coalition. UP Congress legislative party leader Pramod Tiwary wanted the draft to include a pre-condition, that the alliance partner should accept the leadership of Sonia Gandhi.

But other leaders said it is too obvious to be included in the declaration because if at all any party joins hands with the Congress, it has to accept the fact that Gandhi is the Congress’s Prime Ministerial candidate.

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