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Decision on Pondy seat in two days: Sonia

By R.K.Radhakrishnan

CHENNAI, FEB. 13. The Congress and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam came closer to resolving the issue of allocation of the Pondicherry Lok Sabha seat in the Democratic Progressive Alliance, after the AICC president, Sonia Gandhi, called on the DMK chief, M. Karunanidhi, here today.

This is the first time in more than two decades that a Congress president met a DMK chief. "This meet is necessary for the country," Mr. Karunanidhi said, adding that earlier Ms. Gandhi's mother-in-law, Indira Gandhi, met him.

Ms. Gandhi said a decision on reallocating the Pondicherry seat to the Congress would be decided "in a day or two." "We are discussing the issue and within a day or two the issue will be sorted out," she said emerging from a tea meeting at Anna Arivalayam, DMK headquarters.

Within the seven-party alliance led by the DMK, the seat was allotted to the Pattali Makkal Katchi. Mr. Karunanidhi has since maintained that the alliance with the PMK was clinched at a time when there was a question mark over the Congress joining the DPA.

The Congress has won the seat nine of the 12 times it contested. Congress workers in Pondicherry are demanding that the party go it alone in that constituency.

Asked for his comments later, Mr. Karunanidhi said a "good decision" would be announced shortly.

Two options

Two options are being considered at present. One, allocation of another seat in the northern belt— Salem, Mayiladuturai or Cuddalore— to the PMK in lieu of Pondicherry. Two, a `friendly contest' in Pondicherry. Salem and Mayiladuturai have been given to the Congress, while Cuddalore has been allotted to the DMK. In the event of the PMK choosing Cuddalore, the DMK will contest from either Salem or Mayiladuturai.

Ms. Gandhi dismissed the demand in the Congress that the party ask for Nagercoil and Sriperumbudur, saying these were "small matters which the AICC secretaries would discuss." The party had already signed the alliance document with the DMK and was firmly in the front.

Earlier, addressing party workers at Kamaraj Arangam after unveiling a statue of Kamaraj, she asked them to work "collectively and cohesively" for the alliance in 39 constituencies in Tamil Nadu. However, she did not mention the lone seat in Pondicherry. Looking at the Congress leaders from Pondicherry, who were seated in the front row, a smiling Sonia Gandhi said: "I should have said the correct numbers."

After the function, she met the party leaders from Pondicherry including the Chief Minister, N. Rangasamy, the PCC president, V. Narayanasamy, and a former Minister and key aspirant for the Pondicherry seat, P. Kannan. She also met representatives from Nagercoil, who are demanding reallocation to the Congress of the seat from the CPI (M).

On her visit to Chennai, Ms. Gandhi said she had earlier stated she would come here at the earliest opportunity to meet Mr. Karunanidhi. "I feel this is a formidable and winning alliance," said Ms. Gandhi, who was accompanied to the tea-meeting by the TNCC president, G.K.Vasan, and leaders including Kamal Nath and Pranab Mukkherjee.

Ms. Gandhi described the discussions with the DMK leadership as good and said it was time now to begin the campaign and work together. She hoped that the people of the State whom "my husband (the former Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi) and my mother-in-law (the late Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi) loved so much" would vote for the alliance.

Call for Kamaraj era

Addressing Congress cadres at the Kamaraj Hall, Ms. Gandhi vowed to restore the Kamaraj era, which was characterised by policies of "concern for the common man, transparency and good governance" in Tamil Nadu.

Some were trying to appropriate the credit for Tamil Nadu's success in the mid-day meals programme, but it was Kamaraj who pioneered the scheme and "others, we also, merely built upon his initiatives". The simplicity of Kamaraj, she said, contrasted with the "vulgar ostentation" of present-day politicians.

Unveiling the statue of Kamaraj was a "particular happy moment for me", as Indira Gandhi had laid the foundation stone for the Kamaraj Memorial Hall and Rajiv Gandhi declared it open, she noted.

Mr. Kamal Nath said Ms. Gandhi had forged a "historic alliance'' and every Congressman was looking forward to the polling day.

Mr. Vasan said the State Congress would form a strong base for a "secular and dynamic" Government under the leadership of Ms. Gandhi.

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