The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia woos Left, no-changers sit up

New Delhi, May 14: Sonia Gandhi has appealed to the CPM and the CPI to join a Congress-led coalition at the Centre.

During an hour-long meeting with CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan last night, the Congress chief told him the Left parties must join the government to give it a credible and stable profile.

Sonia, who has often sought counsel from CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet, had invited Bardhan to 10 Janpath to seek his advice on government formation.

But her appeal for the Left’s participation would not have cut much ice with the hardliners in the CPM — the no-changers who had scuttled such a move in 1996, when Jyoti Basu could have become Prime Minister.

A majority of the Kerala central committee members do not want to neutralise their opposition to the Congress in the state by joining a government headed by it at the Centre.

The Bengal members, too, are divided. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who has to contend with both the Trinamul Congress and the Congress as opposition, does not want the CPM to join a coalition. So far, Trinamul was the Left’s main opponent in the state. But this time, the Congress has got six seats and Trinamul just one.

In the CPM, the two most ardent advocates of participation, as always, are the two stalwarts — Jyoti Basu and Surjeet.

The no-changers, however, will do their best to scuttle the attempts at participation when the issue is discussed at the politburo and central committee meetings in Delhi between tomorrow and Monday. A politburo member from Kerala has already set the tenor, saying it is highly unlikely that the CPM will join the government.

Both Basu and Surjeet nevertheless believe that with a large chunk of 63 MPs, the Left can play a crucial role in changing the policies of the government. They also argue that the Left should take some responsibility of governance rather than stick to its stand of offering outside support.

Politburo members Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury, who had opposed participation in the United Front government in 1996, appear to have softened a bit. Karat says there is a “new situation” this time. After all, the Left has never before notched up such an impressive tally in Parliament. But he adds a rider. “We are traditionally opposed to sharing power with the Congress at the Centre.”

The CPI is going to meet tomorrow to decide on the issue. But Bardhan has made it clear his party will join a government only if the CPM does, regardless of the CPI national executive’s decision. In 1996, the CPI had joined the Deve Gowda government and had two Union ministers, Indrajit Gupta and Chaturanan Mishra.

Former Prime Minister V.P. Singh also advised the Left parties to join the new government in the interest of stability. Singh said he had spoken to Basu once and would speak to him again to convince him that besides giving stability, the strength of the Left parties was necessary to wipe out communal and fascist forces. He also met Surjeet today.

The Left parties are still on the periphery, confined to Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. By joining the government and taking up people’s issues, the CPM especially could grow in the heartland, he said.

Singh added that the Congress must “rope in” its alliance partners like the RJD, the Lok Janshakti Party and the DMK into the government and “take into confidence” all non-BJP parties like Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Janata Dal (Secular) and former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar.

“Surjeet is in touch with SP,” he said, adding that he had spoken to DMK chief M. Karunanidhi. “I will again talk to him when he comes to Delhi on Sunday.”

Besides, along with the running of the government, “we have to run the country”, he said. On issues of national importance like defence and foreign policy, the government should have national consensus with the opposition and Atal Bihari Vajpayee can play an important role, Singh added.

On the leadership issue, Singh said the Congress had been voted the single largest party and its MPs should have a free hand in electing their leader. “It will be wrong and absurd for outside parties to interfere in it.”

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