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March 26, 1998


'The TDP, in fact, took the decision behind the UF's back'

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Dear Mr Naidu,

I am writing to you more in anguish than in anger.

Your letter dated March 23, faxed at 1725 hours, reached us when the rest of us in the steering committee of the Front were meeting to discuss the situation after your press conference at Hyderabad at 11 am where you announced that you had reached an agreement with the BJP to file the nomination of a TDP man as joint candidate for the Speaker's post, and such a nomination was in fact filed by 12 noon.

This took us all by surprise, as only the previous day you had publicly stated that you will support a candidate if he is by consensus, and in case there is a contest you will remain neutral. You were, no doubt, aware that the efforts for arriving at such a consensus were actually on, and that it was to be finalised on the 23rd morning.

That is why we were both surprised and pained at the contents of your letter.

You mention that you were immensely pained to know that the UF had decided to support the candidature of the Congress nominee for the post of Speaker. This is the same nominee that was elected as the speaker of the 11th Lok Sabha by consensus in 1996, when you had become the convener of the UF and the BJP had been installed as the government.

If now a vote on the issue has been thrust on the members in a more or less equally divided House, the fault lies elsewhere and not with us.

Your complaint that you were not kept informed, that it was a unilateral decision taken behind your back and that it cuts at the root of the UF's consensus approach on major issues, that your feelings and pleadings were deliberately ignored and so forth, is incorrect and unfortunate.

You will please recall that the UF core committee had met on March 6, then on March 10, which you had yourself convened. There were prolonged discussions to reach a consensus about approach in the undoubtedly complicated situation that had arisen after the poll. The other constituents, while fully appreciating your compulsions, earnestly requested you to reconsider your position, in view of the growing danger from communal forces not only on a national scale, but also in Andhra.

It was agreed that we would meet again on March 16 to take a final decision. In the meanwhile, however, it appears that you had already taken a decision of remaining neutral on the vote of confidence which is tantamount to actually supporting the BJP. It is, indeed, unfortunate that you did not wait to convey your decision first to the UF that was to meet to March 16.

The Rashtrapati Bhavan communique confirms that you had already taken a unilateral decision. The communique states: 'The President had a telephonic talk with N Chandrababu Naidu, chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, who informed the President that the 12 Telugu Desam Party MPs in the Lok Sabha would remain neutral, as between the Congress and the BJP.' Further, it states: 'The number of MPs supporting the formation of a government by the BJP now comes to 262. This number -- 264 -- remains short of the halfway mark in the total house of 539. However, when seen in the context of the TDP's decision as conveyed to the President by Chandrababu Naidu, to remain neutral, the number of 264 does cross that mark.'

From this it is clear that your decision, taken unilaterally and conveyed to the President, is what facilitated the installation of the BJP government.

The United Front, however, was basing itself on your assurance of deciding the matter at the 16th March meeting. You had intimated that you would depute a senior TDP leader if you could not attend due to assembly preoccupations. Your representative, however, did not turn up. The meeting was therefore postponed. Informal discussions among available constituents took place and decided to hold the meeting on 22nd March. I K Gujral himself informed you about the deliberation, and about the need to meet again on March 22 as Parliament was to convene on March 23.

In between, some of us tried several times to contact you, many times without any success.

As convener, we expected you to convene the UF meeting on March 22. On the evening of the 21st, as the chairman, I again contacted you and suggested that you should kindly come to Delhi, as it was a Sunday when there would be no assembly preoccupations, so that we can finalise the UF position.

Ignoring our request, you had in the meanwhile briefed the press about your position as it stood till then.

In the light of these facts, is it not unfair to say that things were being done behind your back, or to criticise the recent functioning of the UF, of which till now you have been our acknowledged convener?

We all agree that the UF came into existence at a very crucial time in the history of Indian politics, and that all of us, despite differences in ideologies, laboured hard to provide a real system of alternative governance in the country and preserve the secular heritage of our country from the offensive of communal and fundamentalist forces.

In fact, you will recollect that on the first occasion when the Congress party withdrew support from the UF government, many of us, particularly the Left parties, felt that we should not succumb to Congress pressure and blackmail and instead go back to the people for a fresh mandate. You had disagreed. The UF constituents who disagreed with your position, however, rallied together in the interests of the unity of the United Front. On that basis, you took the lead as the main negotiator with the Congress party to work out the installation of an alternative government.

The TDP had its ministers all through the UF government which existed because of Congress's support. Yet today you, unfortunately, are seeking to give the impression that the UF is taking unilateral decisions behind your back: this is far from the truth, to say the least.

At any stage during this period, if you had even hinted that the TDP would like to have its nominee as a Speaker, I am sure that the United Front would have unhesitatingly agreed. In both the meetings of 6th and 10th March, the possibility of a non-BJP, non-Congress government was discussed. Even at that stage you had not hinted your desire to have a TDP Speaker. Not only did you not suggest such a course but, unfortunately, struck a deal with the BJP and sprang a surprise on all of us. This, in fact, was a decision taken by the TDP behind the UF's back.

Every state has always had its local compulsions whether expressed before, during or after polls. We have together striven to meet such local compulsions within the context of national interests and national tasks.

In our view, it is more than ever necessary for the UF and each of its constituents today to come forward as firm and consistent defender of the secular fabric of India, and its federal democratic polity. We think that the UF needs to be strengthened, so that the hope of the people for this alternative is sustained despite the temporary setback that the UF has suffered. We regret that you have unilaterally decided to dissociate yourself from the United Front.'

Yours truly

H D Deve Gowda

Chairman, United Front

Elections '98

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