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Left revives third front govt agenda

May 05, 2004 18:15 IST

About three weeks ago, when Congress chief Sonia Gandhi was about to leave Delhi to campaign in Maharashtra, Communist Party of India-Marxist general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet and CPI leader A B Bardhan called on her.

Suggesting that she make a sacrifice in the interest of forming a secular government, they asked her to consider making a statement that the Congress alliance's prime ministerial candidate would be decided after polls.

They said this would widen the field for potential allies like Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav and prevent them, in case they got sizeable numbers after the polls, from going to the Bharatiya Janata Party. It was at a public meeting in Maharashtra that Gandhi first said the prime minister would be decided after polls. Today, the Congress seems to have been trapped by that statement.

In Kolkata on Tuesday, veteran CPI-M leader Jyoti Basu cited the 1996 experience to say that it was quite appropriate to decide the prime ministerial candidate after elections.

"If the Congress becomes the largest party Sonia Gandhi is their leader. I do not know whom they will choose. Maybe some other person can be chosen also," he said, implying that the Congress could change its choice, if others had difficulties in accepting Gandhi.

Two tendencies in the CPI-M have charted out two different routes to reach the same objective -- keeping "communal forces" at bay and ensuring more influence and power for the Left parties.

One led by Surjeet and Basu believes that a grand coalition of all the forces opposed to communal forces should be fashioned and claims to prime ministership should be incidental in this alliance.

The Left parties should join this alliance and participate in the government because they were gaining nothing by staying out of a secular alliance. "We have asked the Congress to get hold of allies. The question of prime ministership and common minimum programme will come later," Basu said.

But other leaders like Prakash Karat are believed to be of the view that while the Congress should be pressurised to lead a broader alliance, the Left should stay out of the government and only support from the outside -- keep communal forces out but do little beyond.

This view is influenced considerably by Kerala where the Congress is the CPI-M's principal opposition, unlike Bengal where the Trinamool Congress and the BJP have made some inroads into the CPI-M's base. There are a lot of differences between the economic policies of the Congress and the Left, leaders believe.

Where both groups agree is that the energies of the Left must be channelised to form a third front government, if the numbers permit, that the Congress would be forced to support from the outside. "We had a talk with the Congress and we are talking to parties in Tamil Nadu and in Andhra Pradesh. Some kind of alliance has been forged," Basu said.

The Left Front's assessment is that if the Congress gets more than 140 seats it has a fighting chance of forming a government with the support of the Left parties and others from the outside. But if its seats are less than that, then it is the third front possibly led by Yadav that could be possible.

The Left is conscious that by running down Yadav and seeking to corner him -- as the Congress has been doing both in terms of Yadav's claims to seats and leadership -- the net result could be to push him into the arms of the BJP.

If Surjeet said last week that Yadav would never go with the BJP, it was because SP leader Amar Singh asked him to, to counter Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's propaganda that there were no ideological differences between the BJP and Yadav.

There are many who doubt Yadav's credentials. In another interview three days ago, West Bengal Chief Minister Budhhadeb Bhattacharya implied he did not know Yadav's stand on the BJP.

But ultimately, the Left's priority will be to put a third front government in place if the numbers add up to 140. It will be the Congress that will be in a dilemma then.

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