M A I N   N E W S

Sonia emerging front runner
T.R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 14
Even as the Congress readied itself to elect Sonia Gandhi as the leader of its parliamentary party here tomorrow, hectic confabulations among the secular forces with CPM’s Harkishen Singh Surjeet acting as the pivot in giving shape to a secular front gained momentum.

There were enough indications from the Left Front and the Samajwadi Party which had put a spoke in the wheel the last time that any reservations about Mrs Gandhi being at the helm of affairs has taken a back seat.

Mr Surjeet’s persuasive skills that it is the prerogative of the largest single entity in the grouping of non-communal forces to elect its leader appears to have set at rest any controversy or division in this regard.

The CPM stalwart did not hedge in singling out Mrs Gandhi as the obvious Prime Minister of the non-NDA coalition. It appeared the Left parties are unlikely to commit a second historical blunder by extending support to a Congress coalition from outside. Nevertheless, a decision in this regard will be taken after the politburo meeting tomorrow.

The CPI desires among other things the creation of a ministry for employment and winding up the ministry of disinvestment. Their national executive is also meeting tomorrow to decide whether to join the government or not.

Simultaneously, to iron out serious differences on the economic reforms process, a committee headed by the architect of the reforms programme — former finance minister Manmohan Singh — has been set up to evolve a common minimum programme. The panel comprising Pranab Mukherjee, Arjun Singh and Jairam Ramesh will prepare a draft to be wetted and approved by all the partners.

The Left and just about all the others including the allies of the Congress were clear that there will be no hitches in finalising the common minimum programme.

The prevailing unease in the primary market in the wake of the Left’s involvement in the Congress-led government compelled Dr Manmohan Singh to put the record straight. Tipped to be the finance minister again, he maintained that the new government will promote investment and economic growth. He clarified that they were not pursuing privatisation as an ideology and are against disinvestment if it goes against national interest.

Though NCP chief Sharad Pawar met Mrs Gandhi and Mr Surjeet separately and insisted that the leadership issue will be decided in a day or two in the forenoon, the party observed in the evening after the meeting of its decision making body that it had no problems in accepting Mrs Gandhi as a consensus candidate for the office of the Prime Minister. This paves the way for the NCP to join the government.

Then, former Prime Minister V.P. Singh insisted that only the Congress should head the new government. It is imperative for the Left as well as the SP and the BSP to join the government for greater credibility, stability and unity of the secular forces.

He was acutely aware that the Congress and its allies along with the Left parties had the requisite majority in the 14th Lok Sabha and did not need the support of any other party in the secular firmament.

He said he did not know if the SP and BSP will come under the same umbrella but such efforts should not be dismissed out of hand. He stressed that the Congress should lead the new government with the inclusion of all secular parties including former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda’s JD (S) and the SJP of Chandra Shekhar.

Samajwadi Party’s general secretary Amar Singh discounted any knowledge of the Left backing Mrs Gandhi for the post of Prime Minister but said they would fall in line with the decision of the CPM and the Left parties as they hold the key to any government formation at the Centre. They have left the decision of joining the Congress-led government to their party chief and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav. It is apparent, the Left and other parties are waiting for the Congress Parliamentary Party to first choose its leader before moving forward in announcing whether they have agreed to accept responsibility with accountability.

Support for Mrs Gandhi’s leadership came from Laloo Prasad Yadav’s RJD and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha who have expressed the desire of joining the Congress-led secular front government. With four MPs, JMM leader Shibu Soren is expected to meet Mrs Gandhi tomorrow in this regard.

It is clear that the Congress wants to move cautiously and tie up all the loose ends before going to President APJ Abdul Kalam to stake its claim to form the government. It is only natural that the party wants to be on terra firma this time after the fiasco last time.




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