'Homecomings' cheer Cong.

NEW DELHI JAN. 31. The Congress party's winter of homecomings, continues. Or so it seems. Today, it was the turn of the former Bahujan Samaj Party MP, and a Sanjay Gandhi associate, Akbar Ahmad ``Dumpy'', to rejoin the party.

In another significant development, the former Prime Minister, V.P.Singh, met the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, on Wednesday night. The meeting was ostensibly part of Mr. Singh's latest campaign to get political parties to encourage their MPs and MLAs to reveal the details of the way the MPLADS (Member of Parliament Local Areas Development Scheme) had been utilised. Rivals since Mr. Singh was expelled from the Congress in 1987, the meeting, the first of its kind between the two leaders, is significant insofar as it establishes an acceptance of Ms. Gandhi as a leader in her own right by even those who challenged Rajiv Gandhi.

In Uttar Pradesh, the Congress is seen as the weakest of the four main parties in the coming elections. Ironically, this is also the party that has attracted the maximum number of leaders from other parties. The first to join was the Janata Dal(S) MP, Obaidullah Azmi, along with a sitting Samajwadi Party MLA. The former BJP MP, Gangacharan Rajput, followed soon after, as did three LCP Ministers from the Rajnath Singh Government.

The ``accretions'' prompted Ghulam Nabi Azad, the AICC general secretary, in-charge of the State, to claim that the Congress would end up surprising everybody in the State. ``I think people have been hasty in writing us off, the ground situation in the State is very different from what is being projected in the media,'' said Mr Azad.

For a party that has been buffeted by both the SP and the BSP as far as minority votes are concerned, Mr. Akbar ``Dumpy's'' scathing attack on both the parties could not have come at a more opportune moment for the Congress. He accused Mayawati of entering into a secret understanding with the BJP and fielding Muslims to divide the minority votes. He pointed out that Ms. Mayawati had denied ticket to 13 of her 14 sitting Muslim MLAs . According to him, the SP leader got a lot of minority votes, but his main concern was the welfare of people belonging to his own caste.

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