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Hobson's choice: Sonia stuck between DMK and history

By Renu Mittal in New Delhi
April 22, 2009 22:09 IST
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For Congress President Sonia Gandhi it's a catch 22 situation. Politically, in the midst of a crucial general election is
it more important to fight your personal demons or humour your allies?

This is a question which confronted the Congress president when she convened a high level meeting at her residence on Wednesday evening with Union External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and other senior leaders to decide what stand the government should take on the Sri Lankan government's offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Gandhi's husband, the late Rajiv Gandhi was assasinated by a LTTE suicide bomber and the last few decades have been spent in building up momentum against the banned terrorist organization. With the LTTE reportedly on the verge of collapse and its strongmen surrendering, the Congress party's key ally M Karunanidhi makes statements in the middle of elections calling the LTTE chief Prabhakaran his friend and sending telegrams to the prime minister asking that the Indian government pressurize the Sri Lankan government to call for a ceasefire.

Succumbing to pressure, the Congress party on Wednesday evening issued a statement altering its stand from demanding "a cessation of hostilities" to a ceasefire. Congress leaders opine that with the electoral heat rising, the Congress party did not want to be seen as aloof or uncaring since it has become an emotive issue in Tamil Nadu.

Calling it "political posturing", a senior Congress leader said the party did not wish to signal a different message from its ally, hence the decision to shift and agree to the ceasefire demand. But he was quick to clarify that the same thinking need not apply to the government.

Sources said that before Pranab Mukherjee holds a meeting with the prime minister, the foreign secretary and the national security advisor late on Wednesday night he is holding a meeting with Sonia Gandhi to discuss the pros and cons of the situation and after giving her the feedback available with the government and its various agencies, the Congress top brass would then take a political call on what should be the government's stand.

Sources said this is important for two reasons: It would have to be Sonia Gandhi and the children's personal call and what impact it would have on the election in Tamil Nadu where the ground is not as steady for the Congress and the DMK as it was in 2004, when it swept the state winning all 39 seats .

Sources in the Ministry of External Affairs disclose that the government in unlikely to concede to the DMK demand and would continue with its formulation of  demanding "cessation of hostilities" and not ceasefire. With the Indian High Commissioner to Lanka Alok Prasad being summoned to New Delhi on Thursday and Sri Lankan President Rajpakse sending his brother as a special emissary, the government is likely to focus the entire attention on ensuring that enough relief and rehabilitation is provided to the civilian Tamils in Lanka.

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Renu Mittal in New Delhi

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