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Why Surjeet loves Laloo Yadav

January 08, 2003

Anyone could lead an Australian side to victory (given key members are fit enough to fight). But it takes a captain of rare calibre to lead a lesser team -- and that is the true test of captaincy.

As in cricket, so in politics. Harkishen Singh Surjeet, general secretary of the Communist Party of India-Marxist, won accolades for himself in 1996. He was hailed as the 'modern Kautilya.'

But, when you think about it, how much of the United Front's successes owed anything to Surjeet? He played no role in the electoral victories enjoyed by the constituent parts of that rag-tag coalition. And it was a combination of the Congress's desperation and anti-Bharatiya Janata Party fervour that drove H D Deve Gowda and then I K Gujral to the prime minister's chair.

To earn that title of 'Kautilya' we must see how Comrade Surjeet has fared in the lean years since 1998.

Frankly, this Kautilya's latest move leaves one gasping in utter bewilderment. Comrade Surjeet has decided a rebuilt Third Front should fight the next general election under Laloo Prasad Yadav's leadership!

I am afraid Surjeet has learnt nothing from the Congress' experience in
Gujarat. There, bereft of any effective campaigners, desperate Congressmen invited the Rashtriya Janata Dal boss. His antics drew the crowds, but they also, inevitably, drew comparisons between Sonia Gandhi's slogan of 'Vikas ya Vinash' and the reality in Yadav's native Bihar. I am sure the rest of India knows as much about life in Bihar as did the electorate in Gujarat.

Why, then, is the aged general secretary so determined to have nobody but Laloo Yadav given top billing?

Much of the credit goes to the assembly election in Gujarat. The lesson the CPI-M has drawn is that Sonia Gandhi is incapable of taking on the BJP. If Hindutva becomes the polarising central issue, then Gandhi, because of her background, seems to have more weaknesses than assets. And it appears the Marxists have arrived at the conclusion that the philosophy of Hindutva has indeed struck roots in India. Or, at least, that it has the potential to do so.

If you go back to the dramatic events of March-April 1996, you may recall Comrade Surjeet was at the forefront of those trying to make Gandhi prime minister. The Left Front went so far as to accuse Mulayam Singh Yadav of 'betraying' secularism because the Samajwadi Party leader refused to back her. And up to two months ago the CPI-M was busy trying to persuade Gandhi to lead an electoral alliance in Gujarat.

But those same polls have convinced Surjeet that Gandhi has gone as far as she can go, that a person so thoroughly beaten by Narendra Modi cannot replace Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Ironically, the same lesson has apparently been learnt by the Congress. The party that once swore to fight alone is now prepared to consider alliances.

If not Gandhi, why not Mulayam Singh? The Samajwadi Party leader was a Marxist favourite for a long time, in the heyday of the United Front and immediately after. He had a base in Uttar Pradesh, the largest state in India. He was popular with the Muslims because of his unflinching opposition to the BJP. He was one of the first to take advantage of V P Singh's Mandal gambit, using it to build an OBC base for himself.

But Mulayam Singh was also too independent to be 'guided' indefinitely by Comrade Surjeet. And there was always the fact a showdown between the Congress and Samajwadi Party was likely. If the Congress wants to make a serious bid for power in Delhi, it needs to win Uttar Pradesh. And winning Uttar Pradesh means taking back a large chunk of the voters from the Samajwadi Party. Thus, Surjeet and the Marxists decided to throw Mulayam Singh over -- and the breach of trust is something the Samajwadi Party leader shall not easily forget.

At this point, I must explain that Surjeet's concern for the Congress is limited to Delhi. In Thiruvananthapuram, the Marxists and Congressmen are sworn foes. This farce doesn't work so well in West Bengal, where Mamata Banerjee has provided a genuine alternative to the Left.

And so, we come to Laloo Yadav. He is from the Hindi belt. He has a definite talent for publicity. His 'secular' credentials date back to the time when he arrested L K Advani. And the best reason of all isn't that there is nobody else in the Third Front.

The next general election is 20 months or more away. And Surjeet has a problem that neither the BJP nor the Congress face. Those parties are thinking only about the polls. Surjeet knows the Third Front won't win too many seats; he is concentrating on winning power without winning the election. And the lynchpin of his strategy is going to be Laloo Yadav.


Mohammad Sayeed Malik

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