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 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.
"Efforts to persuade Madame to take back her decision are continuing," the spokesman said.
The party's executive body has already rejected her resignation.
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.
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.