The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Yadav jitters for Surjeet

New Delhi, April 29: Harkishen Singh Surjeet, who is trying to cobble together a motley third front that can assume power if the National Democratic Alliance falls short of a majority, has reason to be worried.

Dissonant voices are emerging from the front even before it has been formed.

Last week, the CPM general secretary handed a secularism certificate to one-time protégé Mulayam Singh Yadav, saying the Samajwadi Party chief would side with the secular front against the NDA which might turn to the Uttar Pradesh chief minister to overcome a possible shortfall in seats.

“We will not allow the BJP to form a government in case of a hung Parliament,” Surjeet said. But he had not thought his public support for Mulayam Singh would trigger protests from another secular camp Yadav stalwart.

Laloo Prasad Yadav yesterday questioned his arch-rival’s secular credentials and opposed his joining a secular third front, even though he softened his stand today. The man who is giving the BJP a run for its money in his home state of Bihar yesterday spoke out unequivocally against Mulayam Singh’s entry into a restructured third front even before Surjeet had the time to measure the impact of his announcement.

But today, Laloo Prasad said the Samajwadi chief would be acceptable so long as he sided with the secular alliance. “We will not accept his (Mulayam Singh’s) dictates or conditions. So long as he supports the secular alliance, it is all right. But we will not tolerate any nuisance,” he added.

The CPM has no such problems with the Uttar Pradesh chief minister, saying Mulayam Singh — despite his dalliance with the BJP — is essentially secular. Party leaders who believe the RJD leader’s statement would reinforce the BJP’s contention that the third front is disoriented will probably breathe a little easier after Laloo Prasad’s statement today.

Even so, Left leaders believe Surjeet and Jyoti Basu will have to work on the two Yadav leaders to bring them to the negotiating table. “It may not be simple though,” they admit.

The hostility between the Yadavs dates back to 1997 when Laloo Prasad dashed Mulayam Singh’s prime ministerial hopes. Surjeet wanted the Samajwadi chief and not I.K. Gujral to succeed H.D. Deve Gowda as Prime Minister of the United Front after the Congress, supporting the government from outside, insisted the Karnataka leader must go.

Basu, then Bengal chief minister, seconded Surjeet, but Laloo Prasad put his foot down. Mulayam, who had been eyeing the hot seat for a long time, was understandably disappointed.

The Samajwadi chief has fielded more than half-a-dozen Lok Sabha candidates in Bihar this time, prompting Laloo Prasad to accuse Mulayam Singh of acting in collusion with the BJP to undercut his support base and divide anti-NDA votes.

The rival Yadavs, supreme in their respective heartland territories, have also been ill at ease with each other. They have always found it difficult to co-exist under the same banner, despite Surjeet’s efforts to broker peace. At the heart of the conflict is the leaders’ common support base – both look to the Yadav-Muslim votebank for sustenance.

Clearly, the CPM general secretary does not want to be forced to choose between the rival Yadavs. Surjeet believes an alternative to the NDA government cannot be formed unless Mulayam Singh and Laloo Prasad are both with the secular front.

Stand on government

Surjeet today told a television channel in Thiruvananthapuram that the CPM’s joining a secular government at the Centre after the elections is open to discussion and not a “closed chapter”.

The general secretary said the party politburo and central committee would decide on this after elections.

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