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Wednesday, July 14, 1999 Published at 13:33 GMT 14:33 UK

World: South Asia

Congress forms key poll alliance

Sonia Gandhi: Will share a platform with Jayalalitha

India's opposition Congress Party has formed an electoral alliance with key regional party in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

[ image:  ]
Congress and AIADMK have agreed that Congress will contest 12 of the 40 seats in the region in the forthcoming parliamentary elections due to be held in September.

The AIADMK will contest 22 seats.

AIADMK leader Jayalalitha Jayaram and two senior Congress leaders, Dr Manmohan Singh and A K Anthony, said the two parties would conduct a joint campaign ahead of the elections.

"We are satisfied with the arrangement," Dr Manmohan Singh told reporters after meeting Ms Jayalalitha.

The BBC's T N Gopalan in Madras says this now means that Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Ms Jayalalitha will share a common platform - something which was far from the case at the last parliamentary elections.

At the time, Ms Jayalalitha attacked the Italian-born Mrs Gandhi for being "a foreigner".

She also led calls for all non-native born Indians to be disqualified from becoming Prime Minister.

Vote share

Other regional parties who are part of an AIADMK led-alliance have also announced the number of seats they will contest - the two Communist parties, the CPI and the CPM will run for two seats each. The Indian National League, a largely Muslim party, will contest one seat.

[ image: Jayaliltha helped bring down the Vajpayee government]
Jayaliltha helped bring down the Vajpayee government
The AIADMK will also contest the only seat from the Pondicherry enclave. Another significant regional party, the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC), a splinter group of Congress, seems now to have been left out of the alliance.

It has been calling for a non-AIADMK grouping, but Congress's decision has now quashed that idea.

Engineering BJP's fall

The mercurial Jayalalitha Jayaram, a former movie star and one-time chief minister of Tamil Nadu, was responsible for the downfall of the BJP-led coalition government in Delhi.

Ms Jayalalitha's AIADMK party had 18 MPs in the coalition, which lost its right to rule after she broke away following a dispute with the BJP.

Mr Vajpayee's government lost a parliamentary vote of confidence in April by a single vote, leading to fresh elections - the third in as many years.

The AIADMK chief faces criminal charges in four cases of corruption, relating to her term as chief minister.

Last month, she was acquitted in one of those cases relating to the import of low quality coal.

The current Tamil Nadu government has set up special courts to hear Ms Jayalalitha's cases.

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