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Wednesday, 16 May, 2001, 07:46 GMT 08:46 UK
Congress bides its time
Sonia Gandhi
Sonia Gandhi: A revival in political fortunes
By Ajoy Bose in Delhi

India's main opposition party, Congress, and its president, Sonia Gandhi are easily the biggest gainers from the recent round of assembly polls in four states and one union territory.

State results
Assam
Congress 69
AGP-BJP: 42

Kerala
Congress+: 99
Left: 40

Pondicherry
Congress: 13
DMK: 12

Tamil Nadu
AIADMK+: 196
DMK+: 36

West Bengal
Left Front: 200
Trinamool+: 87

The party's declining political fortunes appear to have magically revived almost overnight.

The Congress is in the happy position of forming governments in Kerala, Assam and Pondicherry and can bask in the reflected glory of the landslide victory of its ally AIADMK in Tamil Nadu.

Even the defeat of the Congress-Trinamool Congress alliance by the Left Front in West Bengal may turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

With Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Bannerjee - an inveterate foe of the Left - badly discredited by her poll debacle, Sonia Gandhi is now far more free to join hands with the communists and other opposition parties to launch a combined assault against the Vajpayee government in Delhi.

No hurry

However, neither the Congress nor the Left appear to be in any hurry to destabilise the BJP-led coalition government at the centre.

Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Bannerjee
Mamata Bannerjee's loss could be Congress' gain
Although clearly happy at the discomfiture of the Vajpayee administration over the disastrous electoral performance of the BJP and its allies, Sonia Gandhi and leaders of the Left Front do not want to make the same mistake they did three years ago.

In 1998, shortly after a similar string of victories in state assembly polls, the Congress was emboldened to join hands with the Left and other opposition parties to bring down the Vajpayee government and stake their claim to form an alternative regime.

What they did was precipitate a mid-term poll in which the Congress slumped to a record low and the BJP-led alliance romped home with a comfortable majority.

Sonia Gandhi herself was blamed for the hasty and untimely coup and had lost considerable clout within the Congress as well as in the public eye.

Consolidation

Not surprisingly, at the moment she is happy to consolidate her authority over Congress and give the government a long rope to hang itself.

Indian PM
Atal Behari Vajpayee: Challenge could come in Uttar Pradesh
This means that while the Congress along with the rest of the opposition is likely to step up its attacks on the government - particularly over the Tehelka.com arms bribery scandal - it is not going to attempt any hasty toppling game in parliament.

Many senior Congress leaders feel that the right time to strike would be next year when the BJP faces a crucial poll in its bastion of Uttar Pradesh, the country's largest state.

The loss of Uttar Pradesh - which most political pundits and pollsters are predicting - may well be the last nail in the coffin of the tarnished Vajpayee government.

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See also:

14 Mar 01 | South Asia
Scandal threatens Indian coalition
14 Mar 01 | South Asia
Heads roll in India bribery scandal
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