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January 6, 1998


To defeat the BJP, Communists will go soft on Congress

Rajesh Ramachandran in New Delhi

Proclaiming the Bharatiya Janata Party as its primary enemy the Left Front is now left with no option but to go soft on the Congress.

Communist Party of India-Marxist general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet told his party's Kerala conference in Palakkad last Friday that the BJP is the bigger enemy for the Left parties. Wherever the United Front is not strong enough to take on the BJP directly, Surjeet said, the Communists would work to get BJP candidates defeated.

This euphemism for working with the Congress in states where the United Front does not stand a chance of winning a seat is a volte face from the CPI-M's earlier stand to keep an equal distance from both, the BJP and the Congress.

Significantly, Surjeet's statement was made on the same day that Congress Working Committee members Ghulam Nabi Azad and Dr Manmohan Singh asked the Left parties to shun anti-Congressism in Calcutta.

The Communist Party of India now says it will support Congress candidates in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa and Rajasthan.

CPI national secretary Dasari Nagbhushana Rao told a meeting with CPI activists in Vijayawada on Sunday that a broad secular front would be formed to check the BJP and that the party has decided to support the Congress in states where it does not have a major presence.

"This should not be equated with a political alignment with the Congress. There is no political understanding with the Congress. But now there is no question of equi-distance with the Congress and BJP. The BJP is the major challenge and we have to somehow stop the BJP, its Hindutva and rightist agenda. The Congress is a distant third in the race," D Raja, the CPI national secretary, told Rediff On The NeT.

Raja, however, downplayed the report from Vijayawada as "confusing" and insists that there will be no understanding with the Congress to keep the BJP at bay.

The inclusion of Orissa in the CPI list has surprised many observers. The CPI has been a partner of the Janata Dal-led combine, had several member in past state assemblies and fought Lok Sabha elections against the Congress.

Moreover, it is felt, the recent overtures to the Congress which is the Left's main adversary in the Red bastions of Kerala and West Bengal would send confusing signals to the cadres.

"Ours is an ideologically and politically motivated cadre. They will never vote for the BJP and hence we don't have to make it very obvious that the BJP has to be defeated," says Raja.

Though CPI-M ideologue and Politburo member Sitaram Yechury told Rediff On The NeT that wherever the Left Front has no candidates it would be the party's effort to see the BJP is defeated, he feels his party can never help the Congress as that would antagonise the voter who is discontented with the Congress and hence would go for the BJP as the alternative.

"Defeating the BJP need not necessarily mean that we ask our workers to help the Congress. We can even go with Independents and others who would be able to fight the BJP," says Yechury.

Despite this Left-speak, the fact is that the Communists have dropped the trenchant anti-Congressism at least in states where they are not a force to reckon with.

The idea of helping the Congress has not gone down well with all the Left Front partners. Rajan Shastri, national secretary of the Forward Bloc, told Rediff On The NeT that his party is yet to take a stand on the issue of accommodating the Congress in any manner.

"Both are common enemies. The only difference is that the Congress is a dying enemy and the BJP is a growing enemy. This is a personal view. I feel the Congress provided a platform for the BJP to grow and if the Congress comes to power again it would be repeated," says Sharma whose party had three members in the 11th Lok Sabha, has 23 MLAs in the West Bengal assembly and a presence in Tamil Nadu and Tripura.

The CPI-M's and CPI's statement in tandem is not surprising since the Left Front -- which comprises of both the main Communist parties, the Forward Bloc and the Revolutionary Socialist Party -- will issue a common manifesto for the first time.

Though many Communists have come to terms with the idea of a covert understanding with the Congress, there are others like Marxist veteran E M S Namboodiripad lashed out at the Congress at the Palakkad conference, portraying it as a dying party of little significance.

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