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Fair-weather friends’ flock back to resurgent Congress

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Politicians who distanced themselves from India’s Congress party before its stunning election victory are rushing back with almost indecent haste in the hope of being embraced by the new government.

The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) grabbed 262 seats in the month-long polls, leaving it just 10 short of an absolute majority.

The Congress alone won 206 seats — its best performance in 18 years.

A so-called “Third Front” and even a “Fourth Front” with a combined total of 14 regional parties had decided to form their own groups ahead of the election, but they have rapidly disintegrated in the wake of the Congress juggernaut.

“We had expected the two fronts to fragment but what amazes us is the speed at which this is happening,” a Congress leader tipped to hold a top cabinet slot told reporters in an off-record briefing.

First out of the blocks in the sprint to find favour with the Congress leadership was the Fourth Front’s Samajwadi Party, which offered the backing of its 23 MPs on Tuesday.

“It must not be forgotten we supported the Congress party when its Left Front allies withdrew support during the confidence vote in parliament last year,” Samajwadi Party general secretary Amar Singh noted.

“We have no lust for power,” insisted Singh as several others also threw their hats into the alliance’s crowded ring of new-found allies.

Former rail minister Laloo Prasad Yadav, whose RJD party was part of the previous government but went its own way during the election campaign, also offered his “unconditional support” to Congress after being routed at the ballot box.

Despite Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s invitation for all “secular” parties to unite behind his government, Congress has so far played hard to get with its returning courtiers, accepting their support but offering little in return.

One particularly surprising addition to the new cheerleading bandwagon has been Third Front stalwart Mayawati, the self-styled champion of India’s lowest castes.

Mayawati, who earlier said she wanted to become prime minister and had been a vocal Congress opponent during the campaign, offered her “unconditional support” to the new government.

“Singh telephoned me and said I am like his little sister,” said Mayawati after her party managed just 21 seats — half its expected tally.

Not all Congress leaders have voiced the same sort of affection for those seeking to return to the alliance fold.

“We didn’t ask them to leave, and they continue saying they are still part of the coalition,” complained Congress General Secretary Janardhan Dwivedi.

The Telegraph newspaper said the overriding feeling in Congress headquarters was: “Shun the renegades and hug the loyalists.”

As far as cabinet posts go, Congress is certain to take the lion’s share — including the key home, foreign, finance and defence portfolios — while divvying up the lesser ministries between the allies it fought the election with.

It has no need to buy the loyalty of the other parties.

“The Congress this time around needs just 10 MPs to form a stable government and can do without these groups,” said Delhi University political analyst Anand Ojha.

“But the irony of it all is that these fair-weather friends of the Congress do not seem to realise this,” he added.

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