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More ministers to quit for election work, says Sonia Gandhi

By Renu Mittal in New Delhi
February 26, 2009 23:29 IST
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"Jairam Ramesh may not be the only minister to resign from the government and join the party for election work. You will know in the next one or two days", Sonia Gandhi said, minutes after attending the valedictory function of the 14th Lok Sabha where the strains of Vande Mataram brought the curtains down on five eventful years of the Congress heading the United Progressive Alliance coalition government.

Gandhi said that Jairam Ramesh had volunteered to quit his ministership and be drafted for full time party work and similarly other ministers have also made the offer and this would be announced in the next couple of days. Refusing to reveal the names of these ministers she said that some of them had volunteered and when the offers are accepted, they would be known.

Sources say that one of those who is likely to focus full time on party work in the election season is Oscar Fernandes who has organization responsibilities but is also a minister. It was said that since he has a great deal of experience of ticket distribution, and the myriad other responsibilities attached to fighting an election, it may be more prudent to keen him grounded in  the party headquarters.

The Congress president was also optimistic about the alliances, both old and new and felt that this should pose no problem for the party. "We have run a stable government with our allies for the last five years and I see no reason why we should have a problem with the alliances now" she said even as she refused to go into details of the status and fate of the new allies which are currently under speculation like Mamta Banerjee in West Bengal, the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, the Janata Dal -Secular in Karnataka, Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu and whether the Congress would be able to
renew its contract and sign a new lease of life with its existing allies like the Nationalist Congress Party and others.

On a specific question about the Samajwadi Party she said that talks were on and "let us see" while there was no answer on a specific question of an alliance with Jayalalitha. She did emphasis that there is no problem with the existing allies.

With the Election Commission all set to announce the next general election in the next few days and various political parties already announcing its candidates, a big question mark continues to hang over the fate of the Congress wish list to go around the country with a shopping basket, looking for new allies to shore up the existing numbers.

Sources said that with the Parliament session having ended on Thursday, discussions between the congress managers and prospective allies are set to pick up momentum since the Congress President has set March 5 as the deadline for the party screening committees to finalize its list of candidates.

On the issue of bringing in 'old hands' to handle the party's publicity and campaign machinery,Gandhi said that Jairam Ramesh would be heading the party's media monitoring room which would be located at 15, Gurudwara Rakabganj Road while the slogans and the detailed campaign material is expected to be out in the next week.

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Renu Mittal in New Delhi