Even as the move to put together a coalition government led by the Congress gathered momentum on Saturday, the Left parties are faced with a dilemma: whether to join the new government or support it from outside.
The Left Front consisting of the Communist Party of India, the CPI-Marxist, the Revolutionary Socialist Party, and the All-India Forward Bloc is the second largest group with 59 seats in the proposed Congress-led coalition.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi has invited the Leftists to join the government; but a debate is raging within the Left Front whether it will be prudent to have ministers in a government led by the Congress.
A section of CPI-M leaders, including general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet and senior politburo member Sitaram Yechury, are all for joining the Congress-led government. Surjeet and Yechury are key Left leaders who have been meeting various Congress politicians and other alliance partners to put the new coalition together.
But an overwhelming majority of the CPI-M leaders most of them from Kerala and West Bengal and senior leaders like Prakash Karat are dead set against participating in government. "If we join a government led by the Congress, we will lose face in Kerala," one senior politburo member from Kerala told rediff.com "Our party will be destroyed in course of time. We will not allow this self-destruction."
This politburo member argued that the best course of action would be for the CPI-M to support the Congress-led government from outside. "It is a strange situation. In Kerala, we are opposing the Congress government tooth and nail. And at the Center, we are now being forced to join a Congress government," he remarked.
"It is better for us to steer the government being on the outside rather than be ministers inside," he added.
Even as the party's leadership is debating the dangers of joining, or not joining, the government, other coalition allies and former prime minister V P Singh are pressing the Left to participate in Sonia Gandhi's government.
Singh, who is playing the role as adviser to the new secular coalition, has met a number of Leftist leaders in the past two days and made the point that they should join the government rather than "commit another historic blunder". The reference, of course, is to the CPI-M's failure to back Jyoti Basu's candidature for the prime ministership eight years ago.
The CPI-M with 43 seats is the biggest of the four Leftist parties. Whether the CPI, with 10 seats, joins the government is also a key issue.
CPI leaders do not rule out the possibility. "We are open to discussing this issue with other Left parties like the CPI-M," CPI national secretary D Raja told rediff.com "We are debating whether it is the ideal thing to participate in government."
Congressmen believe that even if the CPI-M backtracks, the CPI might join the government. In 1996, the CPI had joined the United Front government of H D Deve Gowda while the CPI-M had supported it from outside. Late CPI leader Indrajit Gupta was home minister in Deve Gowda's Cabinet.
Whether the Left Front will take a collective decision on the critical issue, or leave it to the individual constituents, will be decided by Monday after the CPI-M politburo and central committee meetings.
Till then, the Left Front will keep the Congress guessing.