Congress-Lalu spat goes up one notch


New Delhi : The Congress may be projecting Manmohan Singh as its prime ministerial candidate but key ally Lalu Prasad Tuesday put a spoke in the wheel by saying the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) would choose its prime minister only after the elections.

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As campaigning ended for the second phase of balloting April 23 – the first phase of the five-stage process was on April 16 – Minister for External Affairs Pranab Mukherje took umbrage to Lalu Prasad’s remark, but Manmohan Singh brushed it aside.

“We are a coalition government,” the prime minister said. “In a coalition if one colleague criticises another on the eve of the elections, I do not think we should take a tragic view of this.”

Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad, who a few days back attacked the Congress and held it responsible for the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992 along with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said: “UPA is a confederation of secular parties and does not belong only to the Congress.

“We will sit together (after the elections) to chalk out a common minimum programme and in consultation with all our partners select the next PM,” the railway minister told reporters in Patna.

Lalu Prasad, who till a few weeks ago had been a staunch supporter of Manmohan Singh, has had a fallout with the Congress over seat-sharing in Bihar.

Mukherjee hit back by saying at a rally in Samastipur, Bihar, that Lalu Prasad had “treated the Congress like a doormat” and it had become “difficult to keep him as an ally”. Lalu Prasad responded by saying “time will tell who is with whom”.

On the same day, Manmohan Singh spoke of the importance of the “secular-communal divide” and BJP leader L.K. Advani took him on over the definition of secularism.

Manmohan Singh told the Times Now television channel the “secular-communal divide was important in the country. I do not see this country has any future except by staying with secular values”.

Advani, the BJP’s prime ministerial aspirant, responded by saying his issue was: “What is genuine secularism and what is pseudo-secularism?” He accused the Congress of talking about secularism for the Muslim vote bank.

Jockeying for potential post-poll alliances continued with Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi saying coalition politics “is a reality”. In the same breath, she added that the Left parties should “rethink” their “regressive” ideology that “hurt (the) modern economy”. The Left parties had supported the last UPA government for four years.

But senior Communist Party of India leader A.B. Bardhan asserted in Goa that there was no question of the Left backing the Congress to form a government. He said the Third Front parties, including the Left, were contesting 221 seats and that if the Congress wished to support this grouping after the polls, it was “their business”.

This was even as Manmohan Singh said Monday that he saw no reason for the Left not supporting the UPA in a post-poll set-up as the two had worked together and agreed on most policy issues except the Indo-US nuclear deal. He also did not rule out any combination, saying “nothing (options) is out, nothing is in.”