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In hour of rout, Karat finds comfort in Congress defeat

New Delhi, May 16: Prakash Karat ignored the drumbeats and the nonstop crack of fireworks set off by BJP supporters just outside his party’s headquarters, preferring to see the verdict as the culmination of a “wave” against “bigger enemy” Congress.

Cracker bursts reverberated in faraway Bengal, too, where the Left haemorrhaged further in its former fortress, but the CPM general secretary appeared more pleased that voters had fulfilled his call to “reject the Congress”.

“There has been an anti-Congress wave which has routed the Congress and the UPA. The BJP has gained from this anti-Congress wave resulting in a big victory,” he said today, reading out a statement issued by the CPM politburo. The statement had no mention of the BJP.

Karat has been pursuing an aggressive anti-Congress line ever since the Left withdrew support to the UPA I government over the US nuclear deal. It had led to fissures within the CPM, with many leaders arguing that the BJP was the “bigger enemy”.

But Karat chose to ignore the BJP, even on a day it made history with a sweeping victory that many said was a mandate for Narendra Modi.

Karat said the people had “voted against the policies of the Congress-led UPA government”. Asked if he was pleased that the Congress had suffered its worst defeat ever, he said: “We had given a call for rejection of the Congress.”

“But we are not happy at the outcome,” he added after a pause.

It was Bengal that messed up the numbers. The Left won only two seats, down 13 from 2009.

But while supporters of the BJP’s New Delhi candidate Meenakshi Lekhi burst crackers outside AK Gopalan Bhavan, Karat appeared happy that his party had increased its 2009 tally of four in Kerala, where it was set to win five, and had improved its victory margin in both seats in Tripura.

Karat refused to accept the Bengal verdict. “The widespread rigging, violence and intimidation targeting the Left Front... led to the distorted result which does not reflect the popular support for the CPM,” he said. “There is no need for anyone to take responsibility…. The Bengal outcome is distorted.”

The comment appeared to be aimed at pre-empting a fresh debate within the party on who was the bigger enemy, as Bengal CPM leaders have favoured a pro-Congress and anti-BJP line.

Although Karat insisted the Bengal result did not reflect the CPM’s support base, the party’s performance has put a question mark on whether it can hold on to its status of a national party. To retain the status, the CPM needs to poll at least 6 per cent of the valid votes cast in at least four different states and win at least four Lok Sabha seats overall, or win at least 2 per cent of the total number of seats in Parliament — that is, 11 out of 543 — spread over at least three states.

Till late this evening, a question mark hung on the fourth state (apart from Bengal, Kerala and Tripura) from where the party would poll the 6 per cent votes it needs, according to the first of the two conditions set by the Election Commission.

The alternative criterion seemed out of reach: even a double-digit tally looked unlikely.

The debacle could unleash the simmering discontent against the CPM’s national leadership. Karat is set to quit as general secretary next year at a scheduled party congress but his efforts to name a successor of his choice could be strongly resisted.

As the results rolled in, many leaders vented their anger on Karat’s vehement anti-Congress line. “The Congress was anyway losing. The real threat came from the Hindutva forces but the CPM was not seen anywhere in the fight against the BJP,” said a senior leader, accusing Karat of pursuing a “blind anti-Congress” line.

“This line,” he added, “would prove dangerous for the party.”