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December 2, 1997


Congress tries to prop up Moopanar

George Iype in New Delhi

The Congress's plans to cobble together a coalition government under party president Sitaram Kesri's leadership floundered today as it failed to make any headway in getting the support of as many as 129 members of Parliament to prove its majority in the Lok Sabha.

Considering the poor response to the Congress's numbers game, senior party leaders seem to be making another political somersault. In what is seen as a last-ditch effort, they are planning to prop up Tamil Maanila Congress president G K Moopanar as the leader of a new coalition government.

A TMC leader said Kesri and Moopanar have held four rounds of "fruitful discussions" these past three days. ''The effort has been to avoid a fresh election to the Lok Sabha,'' he added.

For Moopanar and his TMC colleagues, the tilt towards the Congress may be the beginning of a homecoming. Moopanar broke away from the Congress to form the TMC in April 1996, when then party president P V Narasimha Rao entered an electoral alliance with then chief minister Jayalalitha Jayaram's All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham.

Congress circles conceded today that the best option available under the present circumstances is to install a Moopanar-led secular government minus the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam which has been indicted by the Jain Commission interim report in former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi's assassination. Moopanar suggested to Kesri that the Congress should join the government to ensure its longevity.

For Moopanar, who is close to Sonia Gandhi, the reported offer is a second chance to get the top job. The Tamil leader was the front-runner in the prime ministerial race when H D Deve Gowda stepped down in April.

The TMC leader has been waiting silently in the wings after the Congress demanded that the DMK -- ironically, its electoral ally in Tamil Nadu -- should be shown the door for its role in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination.

The TMC was the only United Front partner to deviate from the agreed text that each Front constituent submitted to President K R Narayanan last week. While all the UF constituents stated that they would not support either the Bharatiya Janata Party or the Congress, the TMC's letter contained the rider that the party would be happy to support a political combination that would guarantee a stable and secular government.

TMC sources said this means the party either wanted to participate or lead another Congress-supported government.

Moopanar was also conspicuous by his absence when senior Front leaders called on the President on November 28 and December 1.

Moopanar's associate and TMC general secretary Peter Alphonse, MP, told Rediff On The NeT that his party "is holding serious discussions with the Congress and the UF partners on the future course of action".

''It does not mean that the TMC is being lured away by the Congress. We are exploring the possibilities of a new government because no party wants an election now," he said.

But the Congress-TMC efforts at forming a government would depend on the response they receive from the UF partners, especially the Left parties.

"We have high regard and respect for Moopanar. The issue that brought down the UF government was the DMK's presence in the coalition," Communist Party of India general secretary A B Bardhan told Rediff On The NeT. "The Left parties are not ready to support a Moopanar-led government unless and until the DMK problem is solved."

What is more, an anti-Moopanar lobby is already at work as senior Front leaders like Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu and his Tamil Nadu counterpart M Karunanidhi have initiated moves to shoot down the pro-TMC proposal.

UNI adds: ''There is still a ray of hope in resolving the political crisis, following rethinking in the Congress,'' Moopanar said today. "Nothing concrete has emerged so far though many proposals are floating in the air."

Moopanar said he was against a mid-term poll as nearly 300 MPs are against dissolution of the Lok Sabha.

After his meeting with President Narayanan on Tuesday, Kesri expressed similar hopes. The Congress chief said he was likely to meet Naidu and Communist Party of India-Marxist general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet in this regard.

A confident-looking Kesri parried questions on whether had achieved any breakthrough in resolving the crisis.

Senior Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee, however, said there was no shift in the Front's stand on dropping the DMK ministers.

The hardening of the Congress stand was indicated by another senior leader Arjun Singh when he said the party has to take to the logical conclusion its claim to form an alternative government.

Moopanar adamant about not joining United Front govt
Cracks appear in DMK-TMC alliance over Moopanar's decision
TMC pulls out of government!
Left denied Moopanar the nomination
'Moopanar is a good manager of men
Moopanar is Deve Gowda's likely successor

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