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Friday 14 May, 2004.

Congress gears up to form govt, to choose leader today

Congress Working Committee will meet in New Delhi today to discuss the party's strategy towards government formation where the CPP will also be electing its leader.

The Congress strode to power after eight years in the wilderness, trampling upon the NDA's ''India Shining'' and ''Feel Good'' slogans, as the ruling coalition's gamble of going in for early Lok Sabha elections backfired at the hustings.

Accepting defeat, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who steered the destiny of the country for nearly six years at the head of the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre, accompanied by his deputy L K Advani, met President A P J Abdul Kalam last evening and handed over his resignation.

The President accepted the resignation and requested Vajpayee and his colleagues to continue in office till alternate arrangements were made.

The Congress and its allies have won 217 seats while the BJP and its allies could only muster 185 seats of the results declared till late Thursday.

Sonia Gandhi is scheduled to call on President A P J Abdul Kalam today.

Sonia - PM in waiting?

The Congress has already made it clear that Mrs Gandhi continues to be its leader, but the question of Prime Ministership would be decided after her consultations with its poll allies and the Left parties.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) last night, Mrs Gandhi  said that her party and its allies would provide a ''strong, stable and secular'' coalition government but was non-commital on who would become the next Prime Minister.

''Normally, wohi hota hai'', she said, after a meeting of the Congress Working Committee, when asked if it was not the normal practice for the leader of a Parliamentary party with a majority to stake claim for Prime Ministership.

However, Mrs Gandhi did not assert that she would be the Prime Minister. ''The leader of the Parliamentary party is elected by the elected members of the Lok Sabha,'' she said.

She said the CPP meeting was fixed for May 15 to facilitate all the newly elected members, including from far off places, to attend.

''Being the largest party, the Congress will take lead in forming a strong, stable and secular government at the earliest,'' she said. 

She said the poll verdict was a strong rejection of the BJP-led Government. ''We won the poll on the strength of our campaigning based on moral and ideological underpinnings,'' she averred.

Ms Gandhi thanked the voters and its allies and like-minded parties for the confidence they had reposed in the Congress.




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