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March 23, 1998

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As NC and AGP follow TDP, question mark hangs over UF's future

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George Iype in New Delhi

Nearly two years after it formed the backbone of the national combination of regional parties, the Telugu Desam Party formally quit the United Front today. TDP president and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu has also resigned as UF convener.

Naidu's decision to sever ties with the Front did not come as a sudden jolt to other UF partners. But they said the TDP's determination to virtually join hands with the Bharatiya Janata Party is "unholy and unethical."

"We feel Naidu has ditched us because the UF is no more in power. We are unhappy over the way the TDP chief has somersaulted. But we have been expecting it," a UF official told Rediff On The NeT.

However, he said with or without TDP, the UF will continue its political mission to oppose the Congress and the "communal regime" led by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Faced with an embarrassing situation where Naidu was hobnobbing with the BJP soon after the general election, most UF constituents had agreed that the AP chief minister should be shunted out as the Front's convener.

Opposition to Naidu's decision to abstain when the Vajpayee government seeks a vote of confidence in the Lok Sabha later this week had earned him the wrath of Front partners like the Left parties, the Samajwadi Party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Tamil Maanila Congress and Janata Dal.

On Sunday, Naidu refused to attend the UF steering committee meeting in New Delhi. Instead, he went ahead with the TDP's politburo meeting in Hyderabad which decided to toe the BJP line in Parliament.

While the UF will appoint a new convener soon, there is considerable fear among Front partners that the loose federation of regional political parties is becoming a failed experiment.

UF sources said TMC president G K Moopanar is the frontrunner for the convener's post. Though Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav is keen to hold the post, most Front partners would back Moopanar as he has an excellent rapport with Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

Janata Dal leader and former prime minister H D Deve Gowda will continue to be the UF chairman.

While the stage is set for Naidu to break bread with the Vajpayee government, the Front lost two other crucial partners, the Asom Gana Parishad and the National Conference, on Monday. The AGP, the National Conference and the TDP have announced the setting up of a 'new National Front' .

The UF leadership is also worried that sooner than later the TMC will be lured by Congress president Sonia Gandhi back to the parent party.

Meanwhile, the United Front leadership has questioned Naidu's bona fides in entering into a deal with the BJP.

Neither did Naidu seek the Front's support for a TDP candidate nor did he think it fit to attend the UF core committee meeting which decided the crucial issue on Sunday, Front spokesperson S Jaipal Reddy told newspersons after an hour-long meeting of the steering committee here.

The Front would have readily backed the TDP candidate for the Speaker's post if only Naidu had broached the subject, Reddy said.

Refuting Naidu's contention that he was not informed about Sunday's core committee meeting, Reddy said Deve Gowda had, in fact, spoken to the Andhra Pradesh chief minister on Saturday and insisted that he should attend the meeting. Naidu had then stated he was engaged in consultation process at Hyderabad and that he could not make it.

Commenting on Naidu's decision to leave the Front, Reddy said ''the TDP is at liberty to disassociate itself from the United Front as the Front is a voluntary association. But the Front is deeply pained by the factually incorrect statements of Naidu that he was not informed about the meeting and that the practice of consensus politics forged by him was given a go-by''.

Explaining the sequence of events, Reddy said Deve Gowda, who spoke to Naidu asking him to come down to Delhi, also impressed on him the urgency to hold the meeting in view of the impending elections to the Speakership of the Lok Sabha. Naidu should have realised his responsibility then instead of levelling charges against the Front now.

On Naidu's excuse that the Front's pro-Congress stance on the Speakership forced him to leave the combine, Reddy sought to put the politics of the last two years in perspective. The United Front, he recalled, was formed after the 1996 election on a major plank of countering communal forces as represented by the BJP.

The justification and existence of the Front was to contain the communal forces. Naidu himself was in the forefront of the negotiations with the Congress when the UF formed two governments at the Centre.

Reddy said the TDP's final decision to part ways with the UF was conveyed to Deve Gowda this morning by Naidu's emissary, Yerran Naidu. Till that time the Front leadership had no inkling of the TDP's stance on the Speaker issue, he said.

Elections '98

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