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Congress alone can provide leadership: Sonia

DHULIAN (WEST BENGAL), MAY 4. In a clear signal to the Left parties and the Samajwadi Party, toying with the idea of forming a Third Front in the backdrop of the exit poll predictions of a hung Parliament, the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, today asserted that only her party could provide leadership to ensure a stable government at the Centre after the Lok Sabha elections.

"For a change in the government at the Centre, the Congress is the only party. It is the Congress which can provide the leadership ... We only can give you stability and a development-oriented government," Ms. Gandhi said while campaigning for the Congress candidate for the Jangipur Lok Sabha seat, Pranab Mukherjee, near the border with Bangladesh in Murshidabad district.

Addressing a rally, she said only the Congress could ensure "social harmony, unity and justice to all and put the country back on the rails of progress."

The Congress had tried to unite the secular parties, "but the political arithmetic is different. Each one is guided by their own political interest," she added.

Urging the voters to give a clear mandate to the Congress, Ms. Gandhi said "the people are groaning under the burden of miseries brought about by the BJP-led NDA. I have gathered during my countrywide tour that they are now repentant for the verdict they had given to the NDA in the last elections."

In her first election tour of West Bengal, Ms. Gandhi addressed rallies in Jalpaiguri, Malda and Murshidabad districts.

Mr. Mukherjee, who spoke before Ms. Gandhi, stressed the primacy of the Congress in the formation of a future government at the Centre. Projecting Ms. Gandhi as the party's prime ministerial candidate, he said the only slogan before the country was now "Desh bachao, Sonia lao, desh bachao, Congress lao (Bring Sonia, bring Congress to save country)". He ridiculed the claim of the CPI (M) of forming a coalition government at the Centre. "The CPI (M) hardly gets 30 to 40 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha. It is now dreaming of a Third Front."

'PM must name successor'

Earlier, at a rally in Ratua, Ms. Gandhi said the people had the right to know who would succeed the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, as he had recently stated that his successor's name had been finalised. "If the Prime Minister knows who his successor is, the people have a right to know who it is," she said.

She said it had become very difficult to understand what Mr. Vajpayee was saying these days as ``he says something different and contrary every day." Crores of rupees had been spent on the BJP's `India Shining' advertisement, "but what is the real achievement?" The NDA's achievement was "record corruption in the past six years, including the coffin scam," she said.

The veteran Congress leader, A.B.A. Ghani Khan Choudhury, seeking to retain his Malda Lok Sabha seat for the eighth consecutive time, stayed away from the Ratua rally, miffed that Ms. Gandhi had not visited Malda first before proceeding on the `road show' despite his request.

At her first meeting at Kalchini in Jalpaiguri district, Ms. Gandhi launched a frontal attack on the CPI (M)-led Left Front Government in the State, accusing it of "destroying the State's economy."


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