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|September 21, 1999||
Kerala Marxists spoil Surjeet-Sonia affair
George Iype in Kochi
As Left leaders and regional parties begin talking about the possibility of forming a third front government or supporting a Congress-led coalition at the Centre, the Communist Party of India-Marxist finds itself in a bind.
The CPI-M's all-powerful Kerala unit has refused to toe the central leadership's proposal to extend support to a Congress-led government headed by Sonia Gandhi.
Party sources said the Kerala unit has already informed general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet that "all steps should be taken to avoid supporting a government in which Gandhi becomes the prime minister."
In fact, CPI-M state leaders had a marathon discussion with Surjeet on the issue when the latter came over to Kerala for campaigning early this month. Leaders said it was the "pressure from the Kerala leaders that forced Surjeet to immediately go over to Chennai to meet the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam general secretary J Jayalalitha."
The Kerala leaders, especially Chief Minister E K Nayanar, told Surjeet that they were "embarrassed" at the CPI-M general secretary's frequent meetings with Gandhi to pledge the party's support to a Congress government.
Nayanar and other top leaders in the state also insisted that Surjeet explore the possibilities of forging new political equations to form a third front government, supported from outside by the Congress.
So, soon after his Kerala trip Surjeet rushed to Madras to parley with Jayalalitha. The CPI-M general secretary is now also engaged in talks with other regional players like Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar, Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Laloo Prasad Yadav and Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav. The CPI-M had entered into seat adjustments with the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh to defeat the Congress.
"Surjeet has promised us that the leadership will not take any hasty decision on propping up a Congress government. The central politburo cannot say no to the demand of the Kerala party unit," a senior CPI-M leader from Kerala told rediff.com.
The Kerala lobby dominates the politburo, the CPI-M's apex decision-making body.
The leader said the main argument submitted by the state unit is that blindly supporting "a Sonia government" will destroy the party's credibility. "It was upon the Kerala leaders' insistence that the party gave up the idea to recommend West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu as prime ministerial candidate after the 1996 Lok Sabha elections," he said.
Basu had later declared the party decision as a "historical blunder." But Kerala leaders, who have since then abandoned the hard posturing, are now strongly backing Basu's candidature as the next prime minister.
While pressure from Kerala leaders is likely to thwart Surjeet's longstanding proposal for a Congress government supported by Left parties from outside, the state leaders are also now actively encouraging the central leadership to somehow put together a third front coalition.
The latest exit polls indicating that the Bharatiya Janata Party will do badly in a crucial state like Uttar Pradesh has gladdened the CPI-M.
"If the BJP is unable to win more than its existing 182 seats and fails to emerge as the single largest party, the only alternative then would be the formation of a third front government," CPI-M state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan told rediff.com.
He said the Kerala unit would always "advocate and press for a third front coalition consisting of secular parties."
CPI-M leaders expect that in case the BJP fails to improve its 1998 tally, many of its 24 coalition partners in the National Democratic Alliance will desert Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to join hands with such a coalition.
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