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Tuesday, May 18, 1999 Published at 15:12 GMT 16:12 UK


World: South Asia

Congress urges Gandhi to stay

Pro and anti-Gandhi Congress members exchange blows

Several leaders of India's opposition Congress party have offered to quit in an attempt to persuade Sonia Gandhi to withdraw her resignation as their president.


The BBC's Mike Wooldridge:"The dissidents have been criticised for giving credibility to BJP propaganda"
Our Delhi correspondent says three Congress chief ministers and other party office-bearers have said they will step down unless the Mrs Gandhi reverses her decision.

The Italian-born leader resigned on Monday, in response to a challenge from three senior Congress party members who said no-one born outside India should be allowed to hold top government posts.


Mike Wooldridge in Delhi: "Speculation persists that her move could be tactical."
Tuesday's move came as most members of Congress' top executive body gathered at the party headquarters for emergency talks, according to a party spokesman.

"Efforts to persuade Madame to take back her decision are continuing," the spokesman said.

The party's executive body has already rejected her resignation.

India 'motherland'


[ image: Sonia Gandhi:
Sonia Gandhi: "Pained" by accusations
Mrs Gandhi tendered her resignation on Monday, saying she was pained by the dissidents' lack of confidence in her. She added that she considered India as her motherland.

She then walked out of an emergency meeting of the party's Working Committee.

Party leaders quickly despatched a delegation to persuade her to change her mind, but after a late-night meeting, the delegation could only report that it had been given a patient hearing.

First party dissent

The action by the three Congress rebels was the first to cause open dissent within the party.


[ image: Sharad Pawar: Did not want Mrs Gandhi to leave the party leadership]
Sharad Pawar: Did not want Mrs Gandhi to leave the party leadership
Their letter called for constitutional changes to bar foreign-born citizens from holding high office.

It also demanded that India's prime minister should have some "track record in public life".

The challenge came after parliament passed a motion last month of no confidence in the present government, opening the way for a general election in which Congress is likely to be a strong contender to lead a new government.

Sharad Pawar, the most prominent of the three party rebels, said they had not intended to provoke Mrs Gandhi's resignation as party leader. He said their concern was with Mrs Gandhi as a possible prime minister.

Mrs Gandhi, the widow of assassinated Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, entered politics only a year ago.



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