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Congress keeps third front guessing

By BS Political Bureau
May 04, 2004 17:45 IST
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As campaigning ended this evening for the crucial penultimate phase of the Lok Sabha elections, major political parties were looking at the post-election scenario.

The Congress stonewalled on the issue of outside support to a non-Congress government, and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav claimed at a rally in Lalitpur that his party would hold the key to the next government at the Centre.

Though there were no indications on the part of either the Congress or the SP about a possible tie-up, Mulayam today said in Lucknow that the foreign origin of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi was no longer an issue, but parried a question about whether he would extend support to her prime ministership.

Congress general secretary S Jaipal Reddy kept asserting at a media briefing that the party would "take the initiative" after the elections to form an alliance of secular forces, but skirted questions about whether it would support a non-Congress secular alternative from the outside, if necessary.

"Ideologically, it is important to stop the BJP. Politically, it is important for the Congress to form the government," Reddy said, refusing to spell out which was more important.

Mulayam, meanwhile, spelt out what the SP would not do -- support the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at the Centre in the event of a hung Parliament.

On the Congress "threat" to withdraw support to his government in Uttar Pradesh, Mulayam said, "It will be a great mistake on the part of the Congress if it withdraws support."

Meanwhile, political parties were busy in hectic campaigning a few hours before the deadline for such activities expired at 5 pm today.

Lucknow, where Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is contesting, goes to the polls on Wednesday, along with 25 constituencies of Rajasthan, 30 out of 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh, 12 out of 29 constituencies in Madhya Pradesh, the last 12 of the 40 seats in Bihar, one each in Jammu and Kashmir and Nagaland and two in Arunachal Pradesh.

The fates of Union Human Resources Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi, Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Laloo Prasad Yadav and Jammu and Kashmir People's Democratic Party leader Mehbooba Mufti will also be decided on Wednesday.

This round of polling is crucial as the BJP is expecting good results in central Uttar Pradesh and a repetition of the assembly polls performance in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, where it had swept the elections last year.

For the Congress, a good performance will mean that its will have to win as many seats as it had in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections in these states.

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BS Political Bureau