The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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CPM hawks set stage for Blunder II

New Delhi, May 15: The CPM is set to repeat its “historic blunder” as hardliners and the lobby against participation in the Congress-led government seemed to hold sway in the politburo, the party’s highest decision-making body.

In 1996, the CPM had refused to participate in the United Front government, robbing Jyoti Basu of a chance to be the country’s first communist Prime Minister — a move the Left veteran famously described as a “historic blunder”.

The politburo met in Delhi to confabulate on participation. At the end of the day, senior leader Sitaram Yechury indicated the evolving opinion by stating that the CPM had not committed a “historic blunder” in 1996. The party had acted in accordance with its policy and in its interest.

He dismissed the significance of the 60-plus seats the Left has got for the first time. “This is not a mandate for us. If it had been, we would have got 272 seats,” he said.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi met Basu at Banga Bhavan this afternoon and spent 20 minutes discussing the new political situation, particularly the issue of the Left’s participation in government.

But Basu again appears helpless in the face of stubborn opposition from the Bengal and Kerala politburo members, who argue that there is a conflict of interest between associating with the Congress in Delhi and fighting it in their states. He has been an advocate of participation in a government at the Centre since the ascendancy of the BJP and the changed political climate.

“I have asked the Left to participate in the government,” Sonia told reporters but kept mum when asked whether Basu had given her a positive assurance.

From all indications, CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet and his “like-minded” comrade Basu have again failed to convince the politburo of the need to participate in the government.

The balance in the politburo seems heavily tilted against participation. Of the 17 members, there were hardly any voices in favour of joining the government, barring those of Surjeet, Basu and Yechury. All the three members from Bengal — Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Biman Bose and Anil Biswas — were against participation; so were the four from Kerala.

The CPM’s central committee, which will clinch the issue, will begin its two-day talks tomorrow. It had vetoed the participation proposal and scuttled Basu’s premiership in 1996. The present mood does not indicate a change.

The CPI, which had joined the United Front government and had two ministers in Indrajit Gupta and Chaturanan Mishra, is unlikely to join the government this time if the CPM does not. The CPI national executive held a meeting today to discuss the issue and general secretary A.B. Bardhan, along with Yechury, made it clear that the Left will go together on the issue.

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