The odds are ticklishly balanced on the CPM endorsing Jyoti Basu?s candidature as Prime Minister of a third front-led alternative government at the Centre.
The Politburo is meeting tomorrow to discuss the possibility of Basu leading a non-Congress government ? a move which was not on the CPM?s agenda till yesterday ? if only to stall the BJP?s return and avert mid-term polls.
CPM chief ministers have been summoned to the capital for tomorrow?s meeting which could be a turning point for both Basu and his party. On the eve of the meeting, the Bengal leadership of the CPM sent out a clear message to Delhi that it stood behind the move to turn the party line around and allow Basu to head a coalition.
At a truncated state committee meeting in Calcutta today, leaders of the group that defeated the 1996 initiative to instal Basu at the head of a United Front coalition ? like Niren Ghosh and Biman Bose ? took a U-turn.
Till yesterday, the CPM refused to yield to pressure from the Samajwadi Party and from within its own ranks ? the RSP and the Forward Bloc ? and spurned leadership overtures.
Basu flatly rejected the proposal more than once. CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet questioned the very existence of a third front and its credibility to lead an alternative government.
It appears Surjeet is still sticking to his stand. After a Politburo meeting this morning, the CPM general secretary asked reporters: ?Where is the third front?? He also emphasised that the question of Basu becoming Prime Minister does not arise at present.
?At the moment, we are talking about a Congress alternative,? Surjeet said. Basu, however, kept the media guessing and repeatedly gave enigmatic replies to whether he could be the prime ministerial nominee. ?The Politburo will decide the issue,? he said.
The CPM lobby which has resurrected the ghost of Basu?s candidature for the top job is harping on the fact that his taking charge is the only way of keeping the BJP at bay and stalling a snap poll.
The other group in the CPM ? arguing against Basu taking the job ? is stressing that the decision will spell doom for the chief minister and his party.
Members of this group said the political situation at present is far more critical than in 1996. Any Prime Minister who heads an alternative government now will have to tackle unreliable partners like the ADMK, Samajwadi Party and the BSP. ?What about Jayalalitha?s and Laloo Yadav?s corruption charges? Can the CPM suddenly turn a blind eye to all this?? a party leader asked.
Kerala chief minister E.K. Nayanar, who said he would not attend the Politburo meeting, ruled out the possibility of the Politburo deciding in favour of the party heading a coalition. ?The CPM is not in a hurry to come to power,? Nayanar said, indicating the deep divisions that still exist in the party on the issue.
Only last year, the CPM congress in Calcutta had passed a resolution stating the central committee was correct in refusing to participate in the Front government in 1996, ruling out Basu?s candidature as Prime Minister.
The West Bengal chief minister, however, had felt let down by his party. In the aftermath of the Front?s debacle, Basu dubbed the central committee?s decision an ?historic blunder?. But his party at the Calcutta conclave did not endorse his view and stood by the central committee?s decision to shut the door on history.
If the Politburo gives the go-ahead to Basu?s prime ministership, the decision will have to be ratified by the central committee. What pro-Basu advocates in the CPM are banking on is the party?s ?pathological? hatred for the BJP, a sentiment that has gained ground after the Vajpayee government?s stint in power.
At this point, Basu?s candidature appears to be the only weapon in the Opposition?s armoury to strike down the BJP with.
The CPM is hoping the Congress will support a Basu-led alternative and keep out of it. Congress president Sonia Gandhi has said Basu himself declined the offer of prime ministership. RJD president Laloo Prasad Yadav gave an indication of the Congress? mind when he told reporters today: ?The Left parties have agreed to extend issue-based support to Congress from outside. Surjeet and Basu are not fickle political leaders, they will stick to their stand.?
Laloo also said his party was committed to a Congress-led government. ?My party has given the President a letter of support to a Congress-led government. There are no other claimants,? he said.