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Left banks on new Manmohan
‘Sonia is my leader’
Excerpts from Manmohan Singh’s speech to the Congress parliamentary party after being chosen Prime Minister:

Sonia Gandhi is my leader. I would hate to be a substitute for Mrs Gandhi. Nobody can be a substitute for Sonia Gandhi.
The rare example of sacrifice set by Mrs Gandhi was in keeping with the highest standards of idealism that was generated during the freedom struggle.
If I say thank you madam, it will never be enough ... (I) need an adequate expression.
I will exert my utmost to live up to the great trust reposed in me.
We shall move ahead. While moving ahead, we may falter but never give up.
We as a country will prevail.
The task of building India is far from complete.... It will be complete only when every drop of tear from every eye is wiped out.
It is my firm belief that the 21st century will belong to India.

New Delhi, May 19: Once fierce critics of Manmohan Singh, the CPM and the CPI now expect him to be more restrained on liberalisation in his new role as Prime Minister.

The leaders of the two Left parties say they have no problems with Singh at a “personal” level. “He is accessible and a gentleman. We should have no problems dealing with him,” said a senior leader.

Even in areas of possible friction — like economic liberalisation and free-market policies — the Left is optimistic. “This Manmohan will not be the old Manmohan,” said another leader.

According to the Left, the mandate of the general elections has been against communalism and unbridled liberalisation where the trickle-down effect has been negligible. “Manmohan Singh was the architect of liberalisation. He built a house not worth living in. He must have learnt a few lessons. Now he will have to rebuild on a new plank,” said a leader.

He stressed that Singh himself has underlined the need for a human face to the economic reforms. “He now has to spell out in the common minimum programme what are the contours of the human face.”

The Congress is yet to come up with the draft of the common programme. After it is ready, the document will be circulated among the allies for approval. The Left parties have said they will be signatories if the document accommodates their viewpoints.

Despite the conditions it is putting before the Congress and its decision not to join the government, the Left has made its stand clear on supporting the new regime. “Whatever happens we will not allow this government to fall,” CPM politburo member Prakash Karat said at a news conference. The strategy, therefore, will be one of constructive support and opposition. Most of the opposition is likely to come on economic policies.

In 1996, when the United Front led by H.D. Deve Gowda came to power, Left leaders like Sitaram Yechury and D. Raja, S. Jaipal Reddy — who was then in the Janata Dal — and P. Chidambaram — then in the Tamil Maanila Congress, which has since merged with the Congress, its parent party — had drawn up a common minimum programme.

There were areas of friction even then over policies related to divestment, public sector undertakings, subsidies and investments in agriculture, labour law reforms and the small-scale sector. These are areas likely to be the talking points once more, particularly for the Left, which wants the disinvestment ministry set up by the NDA wound up and an end to divestment of profit-making PSUs.

“The Congress too has agreed to disband the ministry. Divestment can be handled by the finance ministry,” said CPI leader Raja. The Left wants the government to adopt a positive attitude towards PSUs. “A PSU can be disposed of only if it is totally unviable,” said Raja. In agriculture, the Left is against reduction of subsidies.

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