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Opposition searches for consensus PM

By BS Political Bureau
May 08, 2004 17:03 IST
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The lack of unanimity among the various Opposition parties over their choice of the prime ministerial candidate again came to the fore today.

The Congress stuck to its stand that its president, Sonia Gandhi, would be the Prime Minister if the party formed the government.

The Left parties, for the first time, said other non-Congress allies, committed to preventing the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) from forming the government, could have reservations about accepting Sonia as Prime Minister.

At a press conference, West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said it was up to the Congress to decide its prime ministerial candidate if it got the opportunity to form a government. He said he hoped "other non-Congress allies will also accept Sonia as the Prime Minister".

This appeared to introduce a discordant note in the relationship between the Congress and the Left.

Although, the Left says it is publicly wooing Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav to prevent him from joining forces with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), suspicious Congressmen believe that this is just a ploy to force the Congress to negotiate on the issue of the prime ministership of a third front government, which is the the Left's prime agenda.

Bhattacharjee said top leaders of the CPI(M) were in constant touch with leaders like Mulayam, Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Laloo Prasad Yadav, Janata Dal (Secular) leader HD Deve Gowda and DMK chief M Karunanidhi to form a third front government.

"According to our feedback, neither the NDA nor the Congress will get a comfortable majority, hence we are working to create a third front, which will be a real alternative to these parties," Bhattacharjee said.

This statement was almost immediately countered by senior Congress leader Shivraj Patil. "Soniaji is our party president. Our tradition is that the party president can only become the prime minister.

However, the matter regarding who should head the non-NDA government would be sorted out after the poll results," Patil said in Dehradun.

Patil also said there were no differences between the Congress and its allies over the issue.

"To keep BJP-led NDA out of power, we would support a Congress-led government from the outside, despite our differences with them on economic policies," Bhattacharjee said.

This means the architecture of the Opposition alliance is still very tentative. However, the overwhelming opinion in the Congress is that the party should either sit in Opposition or lead the ruling coalition.

Supporting a third front is not an option the Congress is at all in favour of.

Top leaders in the NDA have zeroed in on this divergence of opinions to predict that Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party will lose no time in coming to the NDA if the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party is not part of it.

"Paswan left the NDA because the BJP had an alliance with Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh. If Mayawati is no longer part of the NDA, he will return," a minister said.

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BS Political Bureau