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Friday, May 21, 1999 Published at 16:52 GMT 17:52 UK

World: South Asia

Indian rebel pledges new party

The three rebels were expelled after their criticism of Mrs Gandhi

A rebel Congress leader, Sharad Pawar, has announced that he is going to form a new party - increasing the likelihood of a split within the party before general elections are held.

Mike Wooldridge in Delhi: "Sharad Pawar is now a rebel with a cause"
Mr Pawar told reporters in his home state, Maharashtra, that he would form a new political front, "comprising people and parties having a Congress line of thinking but without the Congress drawbacks."

Mr Pawar had been expelled from the party along with two senior members after forcing the resignation of Party President Sonia Gandhi.

The three dissidents, Sharad Pawar, Purno Sangma and Tariq Anwar, had said Mrs Gandhi's foreign birth should debar her from the possibility of becoming prime minister.

Congress not a fiefdom

[ image: Purno Sangma:
Purno Sangma: "Congress does not belong to any individual"
Former speaker, Purno Sangma, a senior Congress leader from India's north east, told the BBC that the party's reaction was unjustified.

He said that the Congress was a "tremendous institution, but did not belong to any one individual or family." His statement was a direct reference to the dynastic influence within the Congress party.

Mrs Gandhi is the fourth member of the Nehru-Gandhi family to lead the party and was seen by many in the party as the natural candidate to become prime minister.

Realignment of forces

The move to form a new political front could have severe implications for the forthcoming general elections.

The BBC's correspondent in Delhi says that Mr Pawar is a formidable presence in his home state and could affect the Congress party's prospects in that state.

Other analysts, including an editor of the English-language daily, The Pioneer, have told the BJP that a new front led by Mr Pawar could also adversely affect the BJP.

Meanwhile, Sonia Gandhi's own political future is still ambiguous. On Friday she was attending ceremonies related to the eight death anniversary of her husband, Rajiv Gandhi.

There is considerable pressure on her to once again take up the mantle as party president.

But Mrs Gandhi has refused to say anything about the matter and is reported to be consulting her children about her future course of action.

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