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Congress(I) elections put off

By Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, APRIL 8. Amid signs of growing restiveness against the Congress(I) president, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi's leadership, the party has decided to postpone its internal organisational elections by about 10 weeks, according to Mr. Ram Niwas Mirdha, chairman of the party's Central Election Authority. Earlier, the enrollment of membership was to end on April 10, but it has now been extended up to May 31. Mr. Mirdha said a fresh schedule for the election would be announced soon.

In another significant development, four senior members of the Congress Working Committee - Mr. Arjun Singh, Mr. Ahmed Patel, Mr. Madhavrao Scindia and Mrs. Prabha Rao - asserted that the party would have nothing to do, directly or indirectly, with the Bharatiya Janata Party. This statement comes in the wake of the on-going debate within the party over the West Bengal Congressmen's preference for Ms. Mamata Banerjee's `Mahajot' - grand alliance - against the CPI(M), an arrangement that would not exclude the BJP.

The leaders, reflecting the establishment's view, have asserted that while it was possible to ``explore the possibilities of having an alliance with like-minded secular parties in the forthcoming elections to the West Bengal Assembly, with the objective of defeating the Marxists, we shall ensure that there is no direct or indirect linkage with the BJP.''

The `mahajot' idea has caught the imagination of the dominant section of the West Bengal Congressmen; this section reportedly wants to go ahead with the `mahajot' idea, even the central leadership was not excited about it. The AICC establishment has not been amused over Mr. Advani's endorsement of the idea.

The four leaders, therefore, felt it necessary to assert the Congress' basic opposition to the BJP: ``The protection and preservation of the secular, democratic, multiracial and multicultural polity of India is an article of faith for the Congress party and it has been committed to it since its very inception. Any step, which dilutes this commitment in any manner, whatsoever shall not be acceptable to the Congress party.''

The statement by the CWC members suggests that the pro-Sonia Gandhi leaders are inclined to give an ideological twist to the internal restiveness. The postponement of the organisational elections is seen as an indirect acknowledgement of this restiveness.

However, Mr. Mirdha, has observed that he had received representation from Bihar, West Bengal, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh for extending the enrollment period as these States were busy local elections. Mr. Mirdha also conceded that there was slow progress in enrollment of women members, who are supposed to get 33 per cent of all organisational posts.

Mr. Rajesh Pilot, a CWC member who a few days ago opted to take a stand different from the party president on the demand of the Bihar Chief Minister's resignation, reacted cautiously to the postponement of the elections. He said, ``the central election authority is an independent body, and we all hope that it has taken this decision in the party's interest.''

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