The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Basu has unity last word

New Delhi, Aug. 14: As always, it was Jyoti Basu who had the last word at last night’s dinner hosted by Somnath Chatterjee for Opposition leaders.

Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav had said he doubted the Opposition could reconcile state-level contradictions. He asked what would happen in Bengal and Kerala if the Congress and the Left joined hands.

Mulayam then asked Sonia Gandhi if the Congress would ally with his party in politically crucial Uttar Pradesh.

The Congress chief did not reply, but Basu, the guest of honour at CPM MP Chatterjee’s dinner, spoke up.

The former Bengal chief minister said there was only one consideration: did the Opposition wish to defeat the BJP' Like students put in a spot by the headmaster, Sonia and Mulayam meekly agreed that their parties were committed to defeating the BJP.

Basu said if this was the case, the Opposition should work out a tactical arrangement to strengthen anti-BJP forces.

The veteran CPM leader has often played the role of a pivot for Opposition unity and even now, is trying to bring together disparate parties who are tying themselves up in knots over state and national-level political equations.

Mulayam and Sonia are rivals in Uttar Pradesh but are both gunning for the BJP in Delhi. The Congress and the Left are bitter rivals in Bengal, Kerala and Tripura but are united against the BJP at the Centre.

The atmosphere at last night’s dinner was convivial, with old foes shaking hands and clearing up misunderstandings. Mulayam asked Sonia about Salman Khursheed’s recent remark that the Samajwadi Party was an ant compared to the Congress, which he said was an elephant.

Sonia expressed regret over the remark, saying she would never have said such a thing herself. She said she could not possibly monitor the utterances of every Congress leader. Mulayam appeared satisfied with the answer, at least for the time being.

Opposition leaders have decided not to attempt to forge a front, which is certain to prove fragile in the current situation.

“We have decided to have just tactical alliances at the moment instead of trying to put together a front,” said CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan. Any attempt to bind disparate Opposition parties driven by different considerations would prove disastrous and give the BJP a fillip, he said.

As the dinner drew to a close Bardhan asked Sonia when she would host a dinner at 10, Janpath. Before she could reply, Mulayam stepped in to say the next get-together would be at his residence.

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