Basu in running with party signal
Pumped-up BJP in fresh search for numbers
Protege stuns Surjeet
Calcutta weather

April 23 
Amid indications that the Opposition may not be able to stitch together an alternative, the CPM today responded to allies? calls to make Jyoti Basu the Prime Minister by signalling a rethink of the party?s stand.

?The process of discussion is going on regarding our stand vis-a-vis joining the government,? Anil Biswas, CPM?s West Bengal secretary, said.

The party?s Politburo members present in Delhi are meeting tomorrow morning to take the discussions forward, but it was clear that the leadership has more or less decided on reconsidering its stand against joining and heading a government. Other Politburo members, not in Delhi, are expected in the capital shortly. The Central Committee, scheduled to be convened early next month, is also being summoned early.

?All secular parties now want him to prevent the BJP?s return. We are waiting for the Congress to formally tell us they will support a Basu-led third force government,? Somnath Chatterjee, MP, said.

Party sources said Sonia Gandhi has sought a day?s time to respond.

The dramatic change in the party stand came after Mulayam Singh snuffed out possibilities of a Sonia Gandhi-led alternative by telling the President that he would not support such a government.

Sonia Gandhi met President K.R. Narayanan in the evening to seek more time to secure the ?requisite numbers?, a request that was granted. But it was becoming increasingly clear that the Congress effort had reached a near dead end because of Mulayam?s recalcitrance.

As the threat of the BJP?s return loomed over the Opposition, the CPM breathed life back into efforts to put up an alternative. Party sources said V.P. Singh was playing a major role in persuading the CPM and Basu. He is the only candidate acceptable to all groups of the Opposition and may even cause a churning in the BJP-led camp by forcing erstwhile Third Front partners like the Telugu Desam and the DMK to review their position.

Nearly all Opposition leaders have requested Basu to head a coalition, only to be rebuffed. Asked if Basu was acceptable as Prime Minister, Sonia Gandhi had said after a meeting with him earlier this week: ?But he has himself said he is not interested.?

Until today?s developments, that was certainly the party?s position. General secretary H.S. Surjeet had yesterday dismissed all suggestions of Basu heading a coalition, saying that some people were trying to blackmail the CPM.

After rejecting the proposal to make Basu Prime Minister of a United Front government in 1996, the CPM is embarking on a review in circumstances that are a great deal more unfavourable for running a coalition than what they were three years ago.

But, as a party leader said, ?the country is poised at a critical juncture?, a euphemism for either mid-term polls or return of the BJP.

The need to forge a third force alternative gathered urgency after Sonia Gandhi failed to muster the necessary support. She presented to Narayanan a list of only 233 MPs ? 39 short of a majority.

In a late-night communique, Rashtrapati Bhavan said the President would not take a ?hasty decision? and conclude ?shortly? his exercise of exploring all possibilities of a new government. It said the President would consider precedents as well as ?new circumstances, some of which are altogether without earlier paradigms in India?.

The communique noted that the Forward Bloc and the RSP had told the President of their preference for a third force government led by Basu.

Despite Mulayam?s snub, the Congress continued wooing the Samajwadi leader. Laloo Yadav and Jayalalitha, both standard-bearers of the Sonia Gandhi bandwagon, have sought more time to persuade Mulayam.

While Jayalalitha met Mulayam this evening, Laloo had a late-night rendezvous with his Yadav elder from Uttar Pradesh. ?Mulayam is my brother and I am confident I can talk him into not bailing the BJP out,? Laloo said.

Mulayam, however, has given no hint of a change of mind. His party today likened the Congress to the BJP and said: ?At least the BJP is openly communal, the Congress wears a mask. This party presided over the demolition of the Babri Masjid.?

Mulayam?s lieutenants revived his idea of a Left-secular alternative after saying the Samajwadi Party would not support the Congress. Former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar, who met Sonia Gandhi today, also attested his opposition to the Congress.

Not prepared to take the blame for mid-term polls, Sonia Gandhi has adopted a flexible and patient line on her current problem with numbers. The Congress chose to ignore Mulayam?s outburst.

On the issue of a coalition government, too, it tossed the ball to third force parties. Asked whether she would agree to a coalition, Sonia Gandhi expressed her willingness to discuss the issue, but said: ?It is also for third force parties to decide how best to keep the BJP out of power.?

The Congress is aware that a coalition will create fresh complications with numbers because of differences within the third force.    

New Delhi, April 23 
With the Congress failing to get its act together and muster the written support of a majority, a rejuvenated BJP today began rummaging through smaller parties for the numbers. All MPs of the alliance have been asked to remain in Delhi and Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee stressed he was still in the race.

The BJP has begun making out a case for Vajpayee to stake his claim afresh and form a government to avert mid-term elections.

It is learnt that Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi has submitted a thick dossier citing precedents and cases from various countries to the President to buttress the BJP coalition?s contention that the leader of a government, which has been voted out on the floor of the House, can be invited again if he has the numbers.

BJP leader M.M. Joshi today expressed strong exception to the President giving more time to the Congress to garner support. He said the decision was in total violation of democratic norms.

Amid speculation that the BJP and RSS were considering replacing Vajpayee with another leader to enable the party to claim power a second time, the Prime Minister pre-empted the move by offering to step down in a meeting of MPs of the BJP and its allies.

His offer was rejected by the MPs, who adopted a resolution reaffirming faith in Vajpayee?s leadership and being part of a government headed by him. The resolution was moved by Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee.

Parliamentary affairs minister P.R. Kumaramangalam said Vajpayee was of the opinion that since his MPs were against a mid-term poll and he could avert such a situation by quitting as Prime Minister, he would gladly do so. ?But the MPs rejected the idea,? Kumaramangalam added.

BJP sources said the move to replace Vajpayee was initiated for two reasons. First, to strengthen the party?s claim to form the government a second time under a new leader and with a new set of allies like the DMK. The United Front had set a precedent when Gujral replaced Deve Gowda.

Second, if the leader represented one of the allies instead of the BJP, he would be ?more acceptable? to potential partners. The Samajwadi Party and a section of the Janata Dal have refused to back a Congress government, inducing the BJP to look to them as prospective team-mates.

Samajwadi chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and the Dal?s ?soft? targets have reportedly conveyed to the BJP leadership that Vajpayee?s replacement may facilitate their offer of support.

The names of George Fernandes and Lok Shakti leader and commerce minister Ramakrishna Hegde were in circulation. But both of them denied such reports.

BJP sources said if the signals from Rashtrapati Bhavan on reinstating the government were ?negative? and fresh support to a Vajpayee-led government was not forthcoming, the Sangh parivar would consider zeroing in on a non-BJP leader to head the next coalition. The BJP may then support the coalition from outside.

The sources said there was resistance to dumping Vajpayee within the party since many felt he was still the BJP?s main draw. ?A new government, too, may not last long, given the arithmetic of this Lok Sabha. If we change Vajpayee now, it will send a bad message to our voters. Another leader may not be able to hold the coalition together since our allies were attracted not so much to the BJP as to Vajpayee,? a party MP said.    

New Delhi, April 23 
The greatest loser in Delhi today belongs neither to the BJP nor the Congress ? the two main contenders for the throne ? but is someone who has been investing all his energy and talent in the power-tussle without any hope of personal gain or glory: CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet.

Having run around in circles trying to fashion an alternative to the BJP at the Centre, Surjeet has landed himself just where he started. And the bitter irony is that the man he must thank for his failure is his own prot?g? Mulayam Singh Yadav.

Surjeet is a bitter man today, all the more for having been done in by Mulayam. Past master at political games and backroom manipulations, Harkishen Singh Surjeet could not this time pull off the coup he and his friends staged on the floor of the House.

Having watched his gameplan fall apart bit by bit, the CPM general secretary this evening sent back the media from the door of his Teen Murti residence with a very sombre and uncharacter-istic ?Sorry?.

For Surjeet, it was not betrayal by the Revolutionary Socialist Party or the Forward Bloc which hurt as much as the last-minute about-turn by Mulayam. All through the political drama, the Marxist leader scotched apprehensions of the Samajwadi Party chief ditching the Opposition and refusing to back a Congress-led government.

?Arrey Mulayam Singh maan gaye (Mulayam has veered around)?, was Surjeet?s response every time he was asked about the Samajwadi chief?s stand on the issue.

Till the last moment, Surjeet hoped to turn his friend around. Even after Mulayam was clearly averse to playing Surjeet?s game ? that was day before yesterday ? Surjeet did not lose heart. He went to the non-Congress Opposition leaders? meeting in the evening with the faint hope of winning over Mulayam.

But it was a nightmare come true. Not only did the Samajwadi leader plunge the knife in his back, he flung accusations at his former mentor. How come the CPM is trying so hard to instal a Congress-led government? Mulayam asked.

Battered by the Samajwadi Party and his own Left Front allies ? the RSP and the FB ? Surjeet threatened to walk out of the meeting. The next day, at a press conference, he said: ?Someone should ask Mulayam Singh Yadav why his party, in resolution after resolution, asked the Congress to take the lead in forming an alternative government,? said Surjeet.

Years of friendship and solidarity floundered while trying to put together an alternative government. Allies turned against each other. One clamoured for a third front-led government, another told the President that his party would support a Congress-led government. ?How can the third front form a government? Where is the third front? We are still trying to regroup the scattered forces,? Surjeet said.

During crises and political controversies, Surjeet was a shield for Mulayam. When the Samajwadi Party chief threw a tantrum because then home minister Indrajit Gupta refused to sack the Kalyan Singh government in Uttar Pradesh, Surjeet stood by Mulayam.

It was Surjeet who strongly pitched for Mulayam as Prime Minister when the United Front was scouting for a leader in place of H.D. Deve Gowda.

?Before leaving the country, Surjeet told me I will not be here when you take oath,? said Mulayam at a press conference two days ago.

At that time, former Bihar chief minister Laloo Prasad Yadav spiked Mulayam?s candidature ?- the two Yadav chiefs hated each other?s guts in those days. Surjeet maintained Mulayam was the secular bloc?s best bet against the BJP in Uttar Pradesh.

Many in the CPM resented Surjeet?s softness towards Mulayam, but the party chief managed to have his way more often than not. With this latest experience, Surjeet may no longer be ready to carry Mulayam?s burden against the odds.    

Today?s forecast: Partly cloudy sky. Not much change in day temperature.

Temperature: Maximum 35.6?C (Normal)
Minimum 27.9?C (3?C above normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 85%
Minimum 64%


Sunset: 5.57 pm
Sunrise: 5.13 am

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