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Mulayam in anti-BJP unity show
- Party says Sonia ‘foreign origin’ no longer an issue
Mulayam (top), Sonia: Friends

New Delhi, May 2: The Samajwadi Party today sought to scatter speculation that it was softening its stand against the BJP.

On the defensive after successive statements from Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and National Democratic Alliance convener George Fernandes that made Mulayam Singh Yadav’s anti-BJP credentials suspect, Samajwadi leader Amar Singh said his party’s priority was to thwart a BJP-led coalition from assuming power.

“We are for a non-BJP, non-NDA option,” he said.

Amar Singh said he expected the question of leadership of a non-BJP coalition to be settled after a consensus among several parties.

He evaded answering questions on whether Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s leadership was acceptable to the Samajwadis and said such speculation was premature. But the party has kept the possibility of some kind of a post-poll alliance with the Congress open.

“Sonia Gandhi has said that she is not in the race to become Prime Minister, but foreign origin is no longer an issue,” Amar Singh said in a concession the party has refused so far.

Five years ago, the Samajwadis had scuppered a move to form a non-BJP government because the Congress had insisted on it being led by Sonia.

“Such things like foreign origin, Bofors and mandir are hyped up by the BJP before the polls,” Amar Singh said.

From his statement it appeared the Opposition had arrived at an agreement on keeping the question of leadership of a non-BJP front aside until the poll results are out.

Contradictory comments were earlier made by leaders like Mulayam Singh, Laloo Prasad Yadav and Sharad Pawar, presenting an opportunity to the BJP to recast its campaign strategy to highlight the fractiousness in the rival camp.

Perhaps through the initiative of CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet, they are now not only desisting from attacking each other, but making conciliatory remarks about the leadership of an anti-BJP front.

Amar Singh acknowledged the statement by Laloo Prasad that he is not a candidate for the Prime Minister’s chair. Mulayam Singh has declared as much.

It was only the Bahujan Samaj Party with which Amar Singh refused to associate. “We do not regard the BSP as secular. They have formed a government with the BJP thrice and had also campaigned for Narendra Modi in Gujarat,” he said.

Amar Singh admitted that at the moment the Samajwadis were talking to only one “secular” party, the CPM, but added that they were expecting a consensus to emerge among like-minded groups.

“We are focused on defeating the BJP. When numbers come we will work for a secular alternative,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Surjeet said Mulayam Singh will not abandon the anti-communal platform. The CPM leader said he would hold talks with several parties, including the Congress, on an alternative to the NDA.

“We are trying to talk to everyone who is anti-communal and bring them on one forum. It is also important that the role of the Congress in the effort to defeat the BJP is acknowledged,” he said.

Surjeet said efforts were on to work out a common minimum programme “for which everyone will be expected to make little compromises”. For the time being, such talks will not be held with the BJP’s allies in the NDA “who have dirtied their hands by aligning with communal forces”.

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