| Surjeet: Testing waters
New Delhi, May 2: The CPM leadership will meet here from May 15 to 17 to discuss the party’s stand on participating in a non-BJP coalition government.
The meeting of the CPM politburo on May 15 will be held two days after the election results and will be followed by two days of deliberations by the party’s central committee.
The timing indicates a more measured response from the CPM this time and leaves the distinct possibility of the party participating in a non-BJP coalition. In 1996, after it refused an invitation for Jyoti Basu to take over as Prime Minister, he described the decision as a “historic blunder”.
CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet today said that before the meeting of the leadership, the party would carry out several rounds of talks with representatives of the Congress, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Laloo Prasad Yadav and H.D. Deve Gowda.
Surjeet said he did not want to pre-empt the stand that the party’s central committee could take. The trends indicated by exit polls so far have thrown up the possibility that the CPM would emerge as the third largest party after the BJP and the Congress. Despite that, outfits like the Samajwadi Party that are likely to get fewer seats than the Marxists have already made it clear that their leaders are in the running for the top job.
Surjeet said the question of leadership will be settled after discussions with all concerned.
Although the CPM is to formalise its stand only after the counting of votes, Basu has already set the tone for the deliberations. In an interview to a television channel, the former chief minister of Bengal has said the party was expecting that the Congress would emerge as the largest non-communal party and favour leading a coalition of smaller parties.
Surjeet was not inclined to discuss the import of Basu’s views for the CPM, particularly in states like Bengal and Kerala where the party’s main rival is the Congress.
The CPM general secretary 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, he said, such talks will not be held with the BJP’s allies in the NDA, “who have dirtied their hands by aligning with communal forces”.
Surjeet was ambivalent on the question of who can head a non-BJP- and non-Congress-led government. He pointed out that Basu had already ruled himself out as a potential Prime Minister on health grounds.
He indicated that the leadership question would hinge on which party or which group of parties has more than half the number of seats in a possible coalition. “We are trying to talk to everyone who is anti-communal and bring them into one forum. It is also important that the role of the Congress in the effort to defeat the BJP is acknowledged,” he said.
Surjeet did not expect that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s and his party’s overtures to the Samajwadi Party will bear fruit for the BJP. Mulayam Singh will not abandon the anti-communal platform, he asserted.
In the interview to the television channel, Basu was reported to have said he would be supportive of a Congress-led coalition. Should such a possibility arise, it would be in stark contrast with the situation in 1996 when the Congress supported a United Front government from outside.