Sonia Gandhi begins alliance-building talks

Assessing that the parliamentary elections will produce a hung verdict, India’s Congress leader Sonia Gandhi is understood to have begun alliance-building talks to explore the possibility of convening a meeting of various opposition leaders in New Delhi soon after the poll results are declared on May 23. The development comes even as Congress General Secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad said on Thursday that his party would not make the post of Prime Minister a matter of dispute among opposition parties and cited the ouster of the Modi government as its top priority.

“We have made out stand very clear. If the consensus is on Congress, then it will take the leadership position. But we don’t want to say that if we are not made PM, no one else will be,” Azad told reporters in Patna. While the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham, a constituent of Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, reportedly confirmed receiving a message from Sonia suggesting a meeting of opposition parties in Delhi after the results are announced, similar messages are said to have been conveyed to leaders of many other regional parties as well.

“I don’t want to either deny or confirm it,” Congress spokesman Randeep Surjewala said about Sonia reaching out to opposition leaders. However, a senior Congress leader said requesting anonymity that the party was exploring a unity meeting soon after the results. There are reports that Sonia has reached out to West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee after the recent clashes in Kolkata.

Sources said senior Congress leaders Ahmed Patel, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ashok Gehlot and Kamal Nath are in touch with leaders of UPA allies as well as “neutral parties” like BJD, TRS and YSRCP, and some other prominent opposition leaders such as Mamata Banerjee, NCP chief Sharad Pawar and TDP head N Chandrababu Naidu in case BJP and the NDA headed by the saffron fail to get majority of 272 seats in the 543-Lok Sabha.

Sonia’s outreach to regional parties come after meetings Telangana Rashtra Samiti chief K Chandrasekhara Rao had with CPI(M) leader Pinarayi Vijayan and DMK chief M K Stalin recently about a coalition of regional parties. But both Vijayan and Stalin are reported to have conveyed to Rao that no viable alternative to the BJP is possible without the Congress support.

By calling the meeting of opposition parties on May 23, Sonia, according to Congress sources, wants to ensure that they are not late in reacting fast to get its act together to form a new government in the event of the BJP failing far short of majority.