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Thursday, May 27, 1999 Published at 18:21 GMT 19:21 UK

World: South Asia

Congress dissidents launch new party

Striking out: Congress dissidents have set up their own party

Three dissidents expelled from India's Congress Party for suggesting that the foreign origin of its leader, Sonia Gandhi, made her an unsuitable candidate for prime minister, have launched their own party.

A spokesman for the new Nationalist Congress Party said it would contest the forthcoming general election and hold its first national convention on 10 June.

The party president - a former defence minister from Maharashtra, Sharad Pawar - said that in politicial terms, it would be equi-distant from Congress and the Hindu-nationalist BJP, and would seek alliances with other parties.

Prompted resignation

Mr Pawar and the other two dissidents, Purno Sangma and Tariq Anwar, were expelled from Congress after prompting Mrs Gandhi's resignation by saying that her foreign birth should bar her from becoming prime minister.

[ image: Back in the fold: Sonia Gandhi]
Back in the fold: Sonia Gandhi
She is Italian by birth and inherited the mantle of India's foremost political dynasty because she is the widow of the assassinated former Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi.

A week after resigning, Sonia Gandhi resumed her post as party president. Senior Congress leaders had been to her home to beg her to reconsider.

Her decision was greeted with jubilation by her supporters. Many believe that, without her leadership, Congress would struggle to make any headway in elections due in September.

But there has been an early sign of support for the rebels. In the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, the annual conference of the ruling Telegu Desam party formally backed their call for key posts of state to be restricted to Indian-born citizens.

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