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Congress spurned 18-seat offer in U.P.: Amar Singh

By Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, MARCH 30. The Samajwadi Party (SP) today blamed the Congress for the failure to arrive at an understanding over seat-sharing in Uttar Pradesh.

The war of words between the two parties has escalated with the party general secretary, Amar Singh, taking exception to the statement of the senior Congress leader, Arjun Singh, denying that he had spoken of withdrawal of support to the SP Government in Uttar Pradesh.

Mr. Singh wondered why it took Mr. Arjun Singh 17 days to clarify a report that was published in newspapers.

Apparently stung by the Congress criticism, Mr. Amar Singh said that while there was no scope for any alliance in the State, the party could consider supporting Ram Jethmalani as the joint Opposition candidate against the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in Lucknow if the Congress convinced the Bahujan Samaj Party to withdraw its candidate from the constituency.

Mr. Amar Singh said the SP had offered 18 Lok Sabha seats to the Congress, which was unwilling to accept anything less than 24.

In Bihar, however, the party, which had 24 MLAs, accepted just four Lok Sabha seats under the poll pact with the Rashtriya Janata Dal.

In Uttar Pradesh, the party had only 14 MLAs, but wanted more than what the SP offered. Mr. Singh said the SP offer had been communicated to the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, and to Ahmed Patel.

Reacting to Mr. Arjun Singh's statement that he could understand the compulsion of Mr. Amar Singh to help Mr. Vajpayee, the SP leader asked why the Congress leader as Human Resource Development Minister had nominated Mr. Vajpayee to head a committee for Mahatma Gandhi's 125th birth anniversary or denied the party ticket to a prominent Muslim leader of Madhya Pradesh, Gulsher Ahmed.

Mr. Amar Singh said it was the SP that had checked the BJP and relegated it to the third spot in Uttar Pradesh while in Madhya Pradesh, the Congress failed to prevent the BJP from coming to power in the last Assembly elections.

However, he said, the party hoped to be accommodated by the Congress in Maharashtra.

The Congress, on its part, ruled out such a possibility or any discussion on the issue. The party spokesman, Kapil Sibal, said the Congress had appealed to the SP to be part of a secular alliance in Uttar Pradesh but now it believed that the latter was not interested in such a pact. "Their tactics is to support the BJP," he said.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) said that while it considered the SP a secular party in Uttar Pradesh, it was for a major party to take a lead and see that the secular votes were not divided.

However, it ruled out any mediatory efforts on its part to bring the SP and the Congress together.

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