India readies for new government, knives out in opposition (Roundup)

May 17th, 2009 - 9:19 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, May 17 (IANS) India’s victorious ruling coalition Sunday prepared to usher in a new multi-party government under the leadership of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as opposition parties, decimated by the electoral rout, began a familiar blame game.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi presided over an evening meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) here attended by the prime minister and senior leaders to discuss government formation amid speculation that her son and party general secretary Rahul Gandhi could get a ministerial berth.

Voices for Rahul Gandhi’s induction into the government grew louder within the Congress in recognition of his proactive campaigning that helped it break new ground even in states like Uttar Pradesh where the party had been an also ran for decades.

A Congress source said the new government could be sworn in after May 21, the death anniversary of Sonia Gandhi’s husband and former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi who was assassinated by a Tamil Tiger suicide bomber on that day in 1991.

Keeping aside the bitterness of the election campaign, Sonia Gandhi phoned contacted Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Lalu Prasad and Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) chief Ram Vilas Paswan, who had broken away from the Congress to contest against its candidates, in a bid to re-cement the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

Lalu Prasad has already expressed regret that he committed a blunder by not aligning with the Congress in his home state Bihar, a decision that led to the RJD bagging four of Bihar’s 40 seats while the LJP got nothing.

The Congress’ other estranged ally, the Samajwadi Party (SP) also extended the olive branch. SP general secretary Amar Singh said: We are for constructive support. We have always put national interest above party interest. It is up to the Congress how much support they want from us and in which form.”

But with an individual tally of 206 seats and the UPA just 10 seats short of the magic halfway mark, the Congress was in the happy position of saying it had not yet decided on the issue yet.

Congress spokesperson M. Veerappa Moily told a news channel: “The discussion in the party is going on to consider the SP’s role in the government, which form and how.”

The NCP, whose Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel are expected to be part of the new cabinet as well, also pledged its support to the Congress-led UPA.

And, as speculation mounted over whether Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee would also make it to the cabinet after the spectacular win of the alliance in West Bengal, the Left parties — which got a rude shock with just 22 seats, down from the 60 plus in 2004 — went into a huddle to review the electoral reverses.

Amid rumours of the knives being out for CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat within the grouping and within his own party, the four Left parties met Sunday.

“In the light of the Lok Sabha election results, it was decided that each party individually would review the reverses suffered in the elections. Following this, the Left parties will come to a collective assessment on how to overcome the shortcomings and move ahead,” a statement said.

And, the beleaguered BJP, whose national ambitions were dashed with an individual score of 116, and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) with 159 seats, found itself battling criticism from within.

NDA convenor and Janata Dal-United (JD-U) leader Sharad Yadav blamed the BJP for projecting Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as a prime minister, compromising its own prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani. “Projection of two leaders as prime minister created confusion among the voters.”

Yadav also hit out at the BJP on Varun Gandhi and his hate speeches. “The controversy over Varun Gandhi’s hate speeches were a setback for the NDA.”

Within the party, confusion persisted over the future of its 81-year-old leader Advani and his decision to quit as leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha. After maintaining through the day that Advani had made up his mind, the party in the evening said he would continue in the post.

Veteran leader Murali Manohar Joshi, whose name is doing the rounds as Advani’s replacement, had said earlier in the day that if the leader had made up his mind to quit it must be in the interests of the party.

He was also forthright in his analysis of the reasons behind the debacle.

“Perhaps the party’s campaigning did not reach the common man… More tickets should have been given to Muslims,” the onetime hardline Hindutva votary said.

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