The Rediff Special /Surabhi Banerjee
'I don't blame the President at all. He was compelled by the force of circumstances'
In May last year, Jyoti Basu, West Bengal's chief minister
and one of the most respected politicians in this country, was
on the verge of becoming India's first Communist prime minister.
The United Front wanted him as its leader, but Basu's own party
-- the Communist Party of India-Marxist -- would
not allow him to be sworn in as prime minister.
In this extract from
Basu's recent biography, Surabhi Banerjee reveals what really happened.
A controversial decision that continues to convulse the CPI-M
The members of the Central Committee
were immediately informed
about the special session next morning to review their earlier
decision in the light of the appeal by the United Front leaders.
'Nine members had left already,' says Basu. 'Nevertheless, we reconvened
the meeting and we decided to take the views of the absentee members
into account on record.'
The special meeting on May 14 stuck to
its earlier stand. Discussions ensued until Basu called for votes,
but the majority still opposed the proposal to join the government
and make Basu the prime minister.
Later, Basu met with leaders of the United Front and alternative
names for the prime ministership were discussed. In the absence
of Basu and V P Singh as candidates, G K Moopanar of the Tamil
Maanila Congress and H D Deve Gowda were mooted as alternatives.
Basu proposed Deve Gowda for the prime ministership and this was
accepted. There was, however, one further appeal to Basu, from
Deve Gowda himself in a letter on May 14.
At the outset, let me express my heartfelt thanks to you for suggesting
my name to lead the Third Front government at the Centre. It shows
your humility and fairness of mind. But in all fairness I should
make it clear that you are the senior-most leader in the country
who has led a coalition government in West Bengal successfully
for the last eighteen years. This rich experience and the stature
that you have attained as an unquestioned leader of the party
in the country, made me come to this conclusion that you are the
best and the right person to lead the nation under these very
fluid and critical conditions.
I am sure that all non-BJP, non-Congress parties, with a secular
bent of mind, will accept your leadership without any hesitation
whatsoever. It was precisely because of this reason that we anonymously
made a request to Central Committee of the Community Party to
revise their decision so that it would facilitate your taking
over as the prime minister of the country.
I assure you of mine and my party's support to run the government
effectively under all circumstances. Once again I assure you that
I would stand by you in all times of stress and strain and offer
whenever necessary any little advice that I could in successfully
tackling the difficult problems of this vast country.
Finally, I hope and trust that at this juncture, keeping in mind
the paramount interest of the nation and the sentimental feelings
of all secular parties of the country, the Central Committee of
your party would revise the earlier decision and facilitate you
to take over the government as prime minister to run it for the
good of the country. To ensure this, I reiterate my full co-operation
and my party's support....
Basu then called on President Shankar Dayal Sharma and briefed
him on the position of the United Front. 'I told him,' said Basu,
'we do not have a clear majority but as the Congress is giving
us two letters of support, we would request you to call us as
soon as the letters reach you.' The President agreed. 'We came
out at about 1:30 pm but there was an inordinate delay on the
part of the Congress in sending us the letter assuring support
to the UF government. It only reached the President as late as
3:55 pm. Given the delay the President called the BJP to form
'It was highly dramatic,' remarks Basu, 'but I don't blame the
President at all. He was compelled by the force of circumstances.'
In the event the BJP formed the government and then its Prime
Minister Vajpayee had to suffer the indignity of being evicted
from office in a fortnight, the shortest term any prime minister
has served. The United Front took charge with H D Deve Gowda as
Excerpted from Jyoti Basu, by Surabhi Banerjee, Viking, 1997, Rs 400, with
the publisher's permission.
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