| Surjeet: Tight leash
New Delhi, May 12: CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet is keeping all secular partners on a tight leash on the ticklish issue of leadership of a possible non-NDA government.
Like yesterday, when Sonia Gandhi called on him, Surjeet spent all day today preparing the ground for a possible coming together of the disparate forces in the secular camp. Mulayam Singh Yadav — the most difficult among potential allies — met the CPM leader at his residence.
“The question of leadership will be easier to sort out tomorrow when we will have the numbers before us,” Surjeet said. His calculation is that if Mulayam ends up with a reduced tally in Uttar Pradesh, he will be more amenable to supporting a Congress Prime Minister.
But Surjeet made it clear that if Mulayam agrees to support a Congress-led formation, the Congress, too, would have to reciprocate. This could mean backing the Samajwadi chief as deputy Prime Minister.
Anil Ambani, vice-chairman and managing director of the Reliance group who is known to be close to Mulayam, called on Sonia today. Ambani, who was at 10 Janpath for less than half an hour, described the meeting as a courtesy call.
Mulayam already seems somewhat mellow. In 1999, he had point blank refused to back a Sonia-led government. Today, he was less strident. “The foreign origin issue has not figured in my election campaign. I have been campaigning on development themes,” he said after the meeting. But the Samajwadi chief is non-committal on supporting Sonia as Prime Minister.
Sharad Pawar, another ally who might have reservations about Sonia, welcomed the Congress’ observation that senior leaders of the alliance would sit together to decide on the Prime Minister. “There are no two opinions on this,” he said.
Laloo Prasad Yadav and the southern allies, led by M. Karunanidhi, have already declared that a government led by Sonia is acceptable to them.
If there is opposition to her candidature, the Congress president might propose the name of another party leader. One name being discussed is that of Manmohan Singh, who should be acceptable to both Mulayam and Pawar.
The CPM has suggested that it is keen on a Sonia-led government. Asked if the party would support Manmohan’s candidature, Surjeet asked: “Why not her (Sonia)'”
But if it becomes necessary, the CPM will not shy away from backing Manmohan even though the finance minister in the Narasimha Rao government was the architect of liberalisation — a bone of contention between the Congress and the Left. The mood within the CPM is that the NDA should be kept out at any cost and, at the moment, any Congress Prime Minister will do.