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.