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The Rediff Election Interview/CPI-M General Secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet

May 06, 2004

If the current election to the 14th Lok Sabha does not throw up a clear victor, a number of would-be kingmakers will emerge to help choose the new prime minister and form the next government.

Among them will most certainly be octogenarian Communist Party of India-Marxist General Secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet, kingmaker during the H D Deve Gowda and I K Gujral governments. The Left parties together have 42 MPs in the outgoing Lok Sabha, and the number could increase this time.

In 1996, Surjeet played a crucial role to install Deve Gowda as prime minister. A year later, he helped Gujral take over.

These days, the CPI-M chief is going around the country enlisting support for a Congress-led alternative to the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance.

In an exclusive interview with Deputy Managing Editor George Iype during an election trip to Kerala, Surjeet discussed the possibilities after the election.

What is your forecast for this election?

I am convinced that the BJP will be defeated. The partners of the National Democratic Alliance will break away. The BJP will be deserted. An alternative government will be in place by May 20.

You have been repeatedly saying this. Are your predictions based on the exit polls?

My own political calculations say the BJP's seats will come down considerably in this election. The BJP will not get as many seats as it got during the 1999 election. That means the BJP will not come back to power. Atal Bihari Vajpayee will not be prime minister again. Today, India's security is at stake because the BJP is in power. The non-BJP forces are all set to defeat the Vajpayee government and defend India's unity and communal harmony.

But the BJP managed to present the NDA as a well-knit coalition during this election whereas there is no such Opposition alliance. So what kind of government can the Opposition parties form in case the NDA is defeated?

Who said we do not have a coalition like the NDA? Ours is the secular coalition as opposed to the BJP's communal coalition. The BJP and its allies are spreading rumours saying there are differences of opinion among the partners of the secular alliance. Soon after the election results are out, all secular parties will sit together and work out a common minimum programme.

Which party is going to head your secular alliance?

As of now, the Congress party is the leader that is heading our alliance. We are all fighting the polls together.

Which are the other parties that will be part of the alliance?

Our alliance is much better knit than the NDA. This includes the Congress, the Left parties, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Samajwadi Party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Nationalist Congress Party... this list goes on.

Do you think Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav will join your alliance?

He will, he will. I am sure about it.

There are many thorny issues for the secular alliance to handle. For instance, the question of the prime ministerial candidate.

That is not a major issue. All parties will sit together and decide who will be prime minister. We will form the next government through consensus.

Are the Left parties ready to accept Congress president Sonia Gandhi as prime minister?

If the Congress party wants Sonia Gandhi as its prime ministerial candidate, we will not oppose it. We don't see any harm in Sonia Gandhi becoming the prime minister of India.

You are not concerned about her foreign origin?

Not at all. We are not concerned about it.

But there are many other prime ministerial aspirants already in the secular alliance. Like Mulayam Singh Yadav, Laloo Prasad Yadav, and Sharad Pawar.

These are things only newspapers are writing. It is silly right now to discuss who will be our prime minister. Let the election results come. As far as the CPI-M is concerned, we have called a meeting of our Politburo on May 15 in Delhi. We will review the election results and chalk out our strategy. The Left parties have a major role to play because we have decisive numbers in Parliament.

Photograph: PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images | Image: Rahil Shaikh

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India Votes 2004 | The Rediff Interviews

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