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Fait accompli for Congress in Pondy

By V. Jayanth

CHENNAI, MARCH 9. It was about time the Congress high command announced acceptance of the fait accompli in Pondicherry. Just as the political parties were preparing to kick off their campaign in Tamil Nadu, the Congress spokesman, Kapil Sibal, made it known in New Delhi that the party would accept the candidature of the Pattali Makkal Katchi in the larger interests of the unity of the Democratic Progressive Alliance (DPA). Congress functionaries in the Union Territory, as ``true soldiers,'' have also accepted the high command's decision.

This should put the lid on one of the major irritants in the DPA, though the Pondicherry Congressman may find it difficult to get over this ``sacrifice''. Whether or not they will work for the PMK candidate remains to be seen. But the decision by the Congress leadership at least at this stage has cleared the decks for the DPA launching its campaign in right earnest.

Congress functionaries in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry have been sore over the way the high command conducted its negotiations with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), without insisting on the party's priorities - in terms of constituencies and spread. The DMK's explanation that it offered the Pondicherry seat to the PMK even before its alliance with the Congress was clinched has not convinced anybody. The understanding in the DPA is that the PMK would limit its claim to six seats only if it was allotted Pondicherry. And, in its arithmetic of seats, the DMK could not offer any more.

What has bugged the State Congress leaders is the lack of understanding the high command exhibited in accepting the seats on offer. ``Not only did we meekly surrender Pondicherry, but we have been denied even a single constituency in the entire northern belt. A few unwinnable seats have also been dumped on the party,'' says a former member of Parliament.

A Pondicherry Congress functionary says the cadres feel let down and the Union Territory's leadership has taken the line that it was not consulted before the seat was given up. ``Our position here is untenable. The seat is with us; we are the party in power and there is no reason why we should give up the constituency for an alliance in Tamil Nadu when we have got nothing much in return,'' he explains.

The PMK has ensured, through the DMK, that it will not lose the ``prestigious seat''. For that party, it is a stepping stone to Pondicherry. ``We lost the seat narrowly last time. The Congress is the ruling party and is also represented in the Rajya Sabha. This is only accommodation in the larger interests of the DPA as Mr. Sibal has said,'' notes a senior PMK leader.

Though the Pondicherry Congressmen have reason to complain or feel let down, they are now being told that in an alliance or seat-sharing exercise compromises become inevitable. Mr. Sibal yesterday said both the DMK and the PMK agreed to provide their surplus votes to the Congress in the biennial election to the Rajya Sabha later this year. With the combined strength of the DMK, the Congress, the PMK and the Left parties, two Opposition candidates can get elected to the Upper House from the Assembly. The PMK has already been promised one and the other has now been offered to the Congress.

The wait now, in both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, is for the lists of candidates. Indications are that they may be out only around March 15. In Tamil Nadu, which goes to the polls on May 10, nominations begin only on April 16. So, there is a lot of time. But as the other parties have announced their candidates, the two national parties are waiting to have the names so that their allies can begin the work. The problem is that though the Deputy Prime Minister, L.K. Advani, will be launching his rath yatra on Wednesday from Kanyakumari and covering four of the six constituencies the BJP is contesting, he cannot officially introduce the party candidates.

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