BJP chief Nitin Gadkari (extreme right) rubs shoulders with CPM politburo member Sitaram Yechury (second from right) at the dharna in New Delhi on Thursday. On extreme left in the front row is BJP veteran Murli Manohar Joshi. Picture by Prem Singh
New Delhi, Sept. 20: Sitaram Yechury is calling it “incidental” but others are viewing it as an accident that has given the CPM a black eye.
Left stalwarts Yechury and A.B. Bardhan today found themselves rubbing shoulders with BJP veterans Nitin Gadkari and Murli Manohar Joshi at Delhi’s protest square, Jantar Mantar. They were taking part in a national strike against the UPA government’s decision to allow FDI in retail and raise diesel prices.
But the upshot was the BJP, considered “untouchable” by the Left, was left beaming ear to ear as the CPM squirmed in extreme discomfiture. That too on a day the CPM was accused of becoming Mamata Banerjee’s B-team by taking upon itself the task of enforcing a bandh in Bengal against her current enemy No. 1, the Manmohan Singh government. ( )
The CPM’s position was made more awkward by the fleet-footed Mulayam Singh Yadav who arrived late, avoided sharing camera space with the BJP and still managed to make common cause with the Left and the anti-FDI agenda.
Mulayam had also been invited to the same event — organised by a traders’ body —where the BJP leaders were present but he managed to side-step the pitfall into which the Left fell headlong. In the process, the distinction the Left sought to draw between its “protest day” and the BJP-led NDA’s Bharat bandh evaporated.
The BJP, which is desperately trying to tide itself over the “communal” tag that is posing hindrances in its path of cobbling a wider political unity to take on the Congress, appeared pleased. Its talking heads on television channels went about celebrating the success, mentioning how the Left had joined them and how the government should take this as a lesson.
BJP president Gadkari thanked the Left leaders but chose not to overplay it. He refrained from reading political meaning into the joint show and said it was to champion the cause of the people and the country.
“I thank the Left leaders for coming together. But don’t read political meanings into it. It was to safeguard the interests of the people, and the government should now roll back its decisions,” Gadkari said.
CPI leader Bardhan based the unusual bonding on the people’s interest. “Ideologies of the Left and the BJP might be different but they are one when it comes to fighting for the people,” Bardhan said, displaying bonhomie with the BJP’s Joshi. In order to make the case more convincing, Bardhan went on to compliment Mamata for pulling out of the UPA.
Yechury, a CPM politburo member, appeared on the defensive. “It was a federation of the traders who were agitating against FDI in retail. They had invited all the parties. I was sent there by the party to present our stand. It was incidental that BJP leaders were also there,” Yechury said.
The development is sure to not go down well with the Bengal comrades who are desperately looking to reconnect with minority voters.
In contrast, Mamata has taken extreme care to keep the BJP at an arm’s length or even farther. A BJP leader from Delhi, who shared an excellent rapport with Mamata when he was a minister in the Vajpayee government, was in Calcutta today. Although he was keen on calling on Mamata at Writers’, the meeting did not “materialise”.
CPM leaders, some of whom looked stumped after the dharna with the BJP, responded angrily to questions if it would damage the party’s ideological position.
“We did not go to the BJP office. If the Left and the BJP can be in Parliament together, why can’t they agitate together in a democracy?” asked a senior CPM leader.
Party insiders said the traders’ body, known for its pro-BJP leanings, had invited general secretary Prakash Karat but the party boss deputed Yechury to the event.
Karat sought to project Mulayam as the leader of a non-Congress non-BJP front. “Mulayam, being the leader of the largest party among us, should lead the protest. He should compel the government to roll back the anti-people measures,” Karat said before marching to Parliament Street police station, along with Samajwadi Party leaders and others to court arrest.
Mulayam, who has maintained an ambiguous stand on supporting the UPA after the Trinamul withdrawal announcement, stole the limelight. “The government should roll back the anti-people decisions. If it doesn’t, then we will have to think of an alternative,” said the Samajwadi leader, who has been backing the UPA from outside.