The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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CPM skips allies’ meet

New Delhi, Aug. 18: The CPM today skipped a meeting of the United Progressive Alliance-Left co-ordination committee.

The CPI was the only Left party that attended the meeting as both the Forward Bloc and the RSP followed the CPM and stayed away.

Officially, CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet said his party was not attending the meeting, which was followed by a dinner, because no official agenda was listed and the newly formed committee is scheduled to meet on August 25.

Surjeet also tried to keep the CPI away. He called up CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan this morning and asked him not to go for tonight’s meeting. But Bardhan told Surjeet he would attend.

CPM politburo member Sitaram Yechury said Surjeet returned from Punjab today and was too exhausted to attend the meeting. Yechury himself was in Patna.

There is speculation that the CPM is trying to send a signal to the Congress that it will attend meetings on its own terms. Initially, the CPM had decided not to join the UPA because it did not want to be part of a co-ordination committee with the government allies.

But the Left demanded the institution of a separate panel following the fracas with the Congress over the decision to raise the ceiling on foreign investment in certain sectors and other economic issues.

The CPI has made it clear it does not agree with the CPM’s tactics of heightening differences with the Congress-led government. Bardhan also made his party’s position clear by attending the dinner.

Although the CPM said no official agenda was listed, the meeting discussed a whole range of issues from the crisis in Manipur, where agitators are demanding withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, to oil prices and the flood situation in several parts of the country.

Later, Congress leader and parliamentary affairs minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said: “The home minister (Shivraj Patil) present at the meeting has assured us that the government will talk to all the parties concerned in Manipur if they are willing to talk. Various aspects of the Northeast situation were discussed and the government has decided to keep a close watch on the law and order situation.”

The home minister, however, conceded that the situation in Manipur has worsened, an admission prompted by the CPI’s criticism of the Centre’s handling of the crisis.

Azad said finance minister P. Chidambaram told the UPA allies that the government has taken measures to avoid escalation of petrol and diesel prices. “The finance minister has said more measures will be taken if necessary,” he added.

Chidambaram also said the Centre was considering an oil austerity drive in government departments.

Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar said that despite the delayed monsoon, there would be no fall in farm production.

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