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'The U.F. will remain united'

Published : Dec 13, 1997 00:00 IST



CPI(M) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet looks back on the fall of the U.F. Government and looks forward to the general elections in an interview with Sukumar Muralidharan. Excerpts:

When did it first become apparent to you that the crisis had gone beyond resolution?

After the Congress brought down the Deve Gowda Government, it was clear that the party was impatient to come to power. When the Jain Commission issue came up, we said that we were prepared to place the report in Parliament and in that process it would be discussed. But we told them that we must keep in mind what has happened in Uttar Pradesh - the BJP's manoeuvring and the way in which the party indulged in defections. This is the worst type of corruption - the JMM case is nothing in comparison. They have spent money from the government treasury to induct people, all of whom have been made Ministers. We suggested that we first take this issue up in Parliament first. We thought they had agreed to that suggestion since the Congress Working Committee adopted a resolution welcoming the Government's decision to place the report in Parliament. But from the next day, individual leaders began issuing statements to the effect that the DMK Ministers must be punished. We were quite amazed. That report was not yet available and yet they were making these demands. And the day the report came, they forgot about the BJP. They began to concentrate their fire on the Government without allowing the members even to go through the report. They stalled the House for days together, not allowing a discussion either of the Jain Commission or the U.P. situation.

We said that we were prepared to evolve a mechanism whereby these charges could be gone into and if warranted, necessary action taken. But they refused to accept various proposals that we made at that stage. We said we could not accept their attitude - unreasonable and irrational. It is at that stage that dissensions began arising inside the Congress party. The BJP skilfully utilised them. They first gave a call through an MP for a meeting of first-timers, to create an atmosphere of demoralisation and then out of that organise defections. Then money power came into play. Industrialists from Bombay were known to be offering money - Rs. 50 lakhs, Rs. 1 crore, ministry berths. But Congressmen themselves were divided. A part of them wanted to go with the U.F.

Why did you not recommend dissolution after the resignation of the Gujral Ministry?

The U.F. was in a minority. We did not think it was morally correct for us to recommend dissolution and not allow a chance for a new Government to be formed. But we knew that nobody would be able to form a government, since all our constituent parties had informed the President in writing that we would not support a government in which the BJP was a participant or the Congress had a leadership role.

There was the other option of facing the House in a no-confidence motion...

Once we are in a minority, where is the question of the confidence of the House? We took a principled position on that.

Then it became apparent to the President that there was no alternative to dissolution.

We were very clear that nobody would be able to form a ministry. The way the BJP has behaved has lowered its prestige considerably. Even those sections of the intelligentsia that had some sympathy for them in the name of stability are not going to vote for them. Going to the market straight away, opening their shop - that nobody can tolerate.

How do you rate the chances of the U.F.?

The U.F. will remain united. We have called a meeting of the Core Committee tomorrow (December 8). The situation we face is different in different States, and there are certain other problems, all of which we will sort out. We will have the same direction. And you will come to know tomorrow that whatever doubts have been created because of certain utterances and statements really have no basis.

There is a gap in the organisational base of the U.F. in certain States.

Yes, we will see what can be done there. Some people and some groups are there. And I can assure you that in the coming elections, we will be the biggest section in Parliament, if not in a majority. When we review the whole picture, I would not say that we have been able to perform very well, because economic policies were always a difficulty. But last time we came together after the elections were held. Now we are going as a Front before the election itself - so all problems will be sorted out.

Will you be going into the election with an agreed leader and an agreed manifesto?

We are going to discuss this matter. Maybe we will not have a common manifesto, but a common appeal, highlighting the main programmes that we would implement.

Would that be on the lines of the existing Common Minimum Programme?

I would not say that. We would like to have some changes in the CMP.

In what directions would these changes be - more modest or more ambitious?

Let us see what emerges. I cannot say anything at this stage because it has to be discussed in the Core Committee.

And the leadership question?

We are not going to discuss this immediately. It can be sorted out because last time also it did not come in the way. If we come up with a programme and maintain the image that we have created - that the U.F. has remained united - then that also gives us added confidence that the future belongs to us.

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Dec 13, 1997.)



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