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0135 hours IST, November 29, 1997


Gujral resigns after Congress withdraws support

An hour after the Congress withdrew support to the United Front government on Friday evening, Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral submitted his resignation to the President.

"My government has lost its majority and does not want to continue in office on moral grounds," the prime minister's letter said. Gujral did not recommend dissolution of the Lok Sabha.

The President has accepted the resignation and asked Gujral to continue till alternative arrangements are made

The Congress had earlier staked its claim to form a government. "All the secular parties are welcome to support a government which will be attempted by the Congress," party general secretary Oscar Fernandes said, adding that, "The Congress does not favour a mid-term poll."

After four days of indecision, the Congress Working Committee finally -- "unanimously" -- decided to pull the plug on the seven-month-old Gujral government at its meeting on Friday evening. Congress president Sitaram Kesri then met the President at 1915 hours and informed him of his party's decision to withdraw support and staked a claim to form a new government.

In his letter to the President, Kesri asked K R Narayanan "to explore the possibilities of forming an alternative government without resorting to the dissolution of the House." Staking his party's claim to form a government, Kesri said, "We are sure given the chance we will be able to prove our majority on the floor of the House."

Minutes later, Fernandes arrived at Gujral's home with a letter from Kesri, informing the prime minister of the withdrawal of support. '

Prime Minister Gujral arrived at Rashtrapati Bhavan at 2015 hours and submitted his resignation to the President. He later attended a dinner for chief justices of various states hosted by the President.

Soon after the dinner, leaders of various UF constituent parties -- among them UF convener and Telugu Desam leader N Chandrababu Naidu, Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader Murasoli Maran, Tamil Maanila Congress leader Jayanti Natarajan, CPI secretary D Raja -- met the President and informed him that they would not support the Bharatiya Janata Party or the Congress in its bid for power. Front constituents handed over separate letters to the President, emphasising this.

"We will not allow a UP-like situation to happen at the Centre," Chandrababu Naidu said. He secured the letters from the coalition's constituents earlier today. The TMC was the last to send Naidu its letter.

Though the TMC parliamentary party met at Fertilisers Minister M Arunachalam's home this evening and finally decided to endorse the Front decision not to support the BJP or Congress in its bid for power, TMC leaders pointedly told Rediff On The NeT that the situation was fluid, and "they were with the United Front for now."

"Our party has passed a resolution saying we do not want a mid-term election," V Kandasamy, the MP from Pollachi, said. "If political parties make an effort to form a secular and stable government we will support that effort." TMC Rajya Sabha MP Peter Alphonse added, "We want to avoid a mid-term election. We are waiting for a new political combination, then our leader G K Moopanar will decide whom to support."

The TMC is not the Front's only Achilles heel. A couple of hours after declaring that ''we are as united as ever,'' Defence Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav had changed his tune. Yadav told the media late tonight that "politics is not static. It is a continous process, and who can say what will happen tomorrow?"

Meanwhile, BJP general secretary M Venkaiah Naidu warned that his party will "throttle" any move by the Congress to form a government.

The CWC met at 1215 hours on Friday, but failed to take a decision on withdrawal of support to the Front government. It then decided to reconvene at 1800 hours when the fateful decision was taken.

Late on Thursday night, Gujral's letter declining to drop the DMK ministers was delivered to Kesri. The UF core committee, which met for over two hours on Thursday evening, finalised the letter to Kesri and it was despatched immediately.

Front sources said Gujral's letter criticised the Congress for raising the ''bogey'' of the Jain Commission interim report and the DMK's alleged involvement in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination. This, the prime minister wrote, only helped the BJP since its ''nefarious role'' in engineering defections to consolidate the Kalyan Singh government in Uttar Pradesh could not be exposed. The letter also placed the onus of a mid-term poll on the Congress.

On Thursday, Front leaders Surjeet and Chandrababu Naidu met President Naryanan and informed him that the coalition's constituents would not support either a BJP or Congress bid to form a government. Somnath Chatterjee, the CPI-M leader in the Lok Sabha and a constitutional lawyer of some distinction, also called on the President.

DMK leader and Industry Minister Maran, Naidu, Surjeet and CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechuri were involved in drafting the letter all of Thursday afternoon. Gujral had briefed them earlier in the day at Parliament house.

Front sources said it was decided that the letter should be political in nature and help the coalition in the event of a mid-term election.

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