| Jyoti Basu and Sonia Gandhi at the dinner. Picture by Jagdish Yadav
New Delhi, Aug. 27:After the aborted bid to field K.R. Narayanan as joint candidate for President, Opposition “disunity” became apparent again tonight.
Bolstered by the series of scams the BJP has got stuck in, senior CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee hosted a dinner for Opposition leaders. Rather than showcasing their unity, the dinner exposed the chinks in Opposition ranks with Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and his lieutenant Amar Singh staying away.
The theme song of the dinner was picked up from the CPM’s central committee meet today — that the Opposition should unite like rock and defeat the BJP first in Gujarat. The Samajwadi-NCP plans to launch a third front in Gujarat may only benefit the saffron party, it is feared.
The dinner was preceded by a CPM-sponsored public meeting which gave a clarion call to all Left and secular parties to unite and throw out the “fascist” and corrupt BJP-led regime at the Centre. “Oust BJP, save the country” was the theme song.
Refusing to admit that Mulayam and Amar had added a sour note to the dinner, senior CPM leaders said they could not make it as one of their colleagues had been shot dead near Aligarh today.
But there was no explanation why Mulayam did not sent a token representative.
Sources close to the Samajwadi leadership said they deliberately stayed away to establish that they did not need the comrades’ help to break bread with Sonia Gandhi.
The Samajwadi leaders — who earlier boycotted dinner and lunch meetings of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh and even launched personal attacks on Surjeet for not supporting A.P.J. Abdul Kalam — have now cosied up to Sonia.
On August 11, Mulayam met Sonia at a lunch hosted by Manmohan and later Amar visited her at 10 Janpath residence.
A galaxy of leaders, including Jyoti Basu, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Sonia and her senior colleagues Manmohan and Shivraj Patil, former Prime Ministers V.P. Singh, H.D. Deve Gowda, I.K. Gujral, RJD chief Laloo Prasad Yadav, Harkishen Singh Surjeet, A.B. Bardhan and Sitaram Yechuri attended the dinner. NCP chief Sharad Pawar sent a representative.
The CPM-sponsored public meeting before the dinner was addressed by V.P. Singh, Gowda, Surjeet, Bardhan, Somnath Chatterjee and Yechuri. Basu could not address the rally as he had an eye ailment.
The leaders appealed to all “secular” forces to get together to bring down the BJP-led government which, they said, had put India to “shame”.
They attacked the NDA for its policies, the Gujarat violence and corruption, and said they should work together against the government not only in Parliament but outside too.
“The need of the hour is to bail out the country from the grip of fascist forces. The secular parties should come together for this and I lend my total support to the Left in this,” Gowda said.
V.P. Singh said terrorism killed individuals but corruption, especially in security matters, brought out by the Tehelka expose, could kill the entire nation. He alleged that a “nexus” between ruling coalition politicians, big business and the mafia was running the country.
Surjeet said that since Independence the country had never before been in a situation where “its very freedom is at peril”.
“We have decided to defeat the BJP at any cost in Gujarat. There should be one-to-one contests in Gujarat so that the secular votes are not split,” Somnath said after the meeting.