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Once-bitten Karat not shy of front

- CPM boss unveils band of 11 to fight BJP & Cong, but 2 keep off

New Delhi, Feb. 25: CPM general secretary Prakash Karat today announced that 11 Left and “other secular parties” would work together to “defeat the Congress and the BJP”, trying a second time to follow predecessor Harkishen Singh Surjeet who had cemented the third front of the late nineties.

Karat said the issue of who would be the combine’s Prime Minister would be decided after the polls. “Leaders of 11 parties held a meeting and resolved to fight the Lok Sabha elections together,” Karat said, flanked by Mulayam Singh Yadav, Nitish Kumar and H.D. Deve Gowda in a replay of scenes ahead of the 2009 elections.

Apart from the four Left parties, the combination included Mulayam’s Samajwadi Party, Nitish’s Janata Dal (United), Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular), Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK, and Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM) of ex-chief minister Babulal Marandi.

But doubts emerged on the fate of Karat’s latest experiment as Odisha’s Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), part of the 11, did not attend the meeting. Karat said their top leaders were preoccupied and claimed they had expressed support.

Karat had made a similar attempt in 2009 after the Left’s split with the Congress over the US nuclear deal, but the move failed. After that, the CPM had lost hope in the third front experiment, dubbed regional parties “opportunistic” and decided that comrades should focus on strengthening “Left and democratic” unity.

Now, Karat has revived the efforts, hoping for a better outcome this time on the assumption that the Congress was much weaker now than in 2009.

“It is time for change and to throw out the Congress… the BJP and the communal forces must be defeated and prevented from coming to power,” Karat read out from joint declaration at today’s meeting at Tripura Bhavan. The north-eastern state is ruled by the CPM.

But one leader’s absence stood out — Mayawati. The BSP chief was the leading light of the front in 2009, projected as the prime ministerial candidate. This time, there appears to be one too many: Jayalalithaa, Mulayam and Nitish.

But Karat suggested the matter would be decided after the polls. Told that Jayalalithaa was being projected as a prime ministerial aspirant, he denied the suggestion. “In my presence, she (Jayalalithaa) has said these matters would be decided after the polls.”

Mulayam echoed the view. “Never in the past have we fought on this issue.… We have had Morarji Desai, V.P. Singh, H.D. Deve Gowda and I.K. Gujral. All these names were decided unanimously after the elections,” the Samajwadi boss said.

The Left remains uncertain about which way many of the constituents would eventually go but wants to keep up the attempt banking on hope that the results would throw up a considerably weakened Congress.

“This time we can hope the Congress could be compelled to prop up a government led by one of the leaders in the front to stop the BJP,” said a CPM leader, recalling the events of 1996 when the Congress had backed United Front governments.

Then CPM general secretary Surjeet had played a big role in the efforts, propping up regimes led by Gowda and Gujral.

Karat sought to play down the absence of the BJD and the AGP today. “BJD president Naveen Patnaik could not come due to a prior engagement. But he has expressed support,” Karat said, choosing not to answer why no other BJD leader came. About AGP boss Prafulla Mahanta, Karat said the Assam leader’s mother was “critically ill”.

Karat denied suggestions that the BJD’s absence was because the party had refused to part with Lok Sabha seats for the Left in Odisha.

The CPM leader clarified that the 11 parties would not have an electoral tie-up at the national level but “pool resources” in their states to defeat the Congress and the BJP.

Karat said the 11 parties had come together to present an alternative to the Congress and the BJP, who he said were “two sides” of a coin.

Asked about post-poll plans, Nitish said he would never associate with the BJP in any way. Mulayam seemed to keep options open. “I am against the Congress. I opposed the Congress most vociferously in Parliament,” Mulayam said with a wry smile.