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Marxists torn between Congress, third front

West Bengal's Marxists can't seem to decide whether to support a Congress-led coalition or to explore the possibility of installing a third front government in the event of a hung Parliament.
PTI | By Indo-Asian News Service, Kolkata
UPDATED ON APR 29, 2004 07:14 PM IST

West Bengal's Marxists can't seem to decide whether to support a Congress-led coalition or to explore the possibility of installing a third front government in the event of a hung Parliament.

Leaders of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) are unanimous that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has to be stopped from coming back to power, but can't seem to agree on the method to ensure that.

The party is speaking in two voices when it comes to discussing the alternative to the NDA coalition.

While veteran party leader Jyoti Basu is advocating a Congress-led coalition that the CPI-M will support from the outside, his compatriots seem keener on looking at an alternative to both the Congress and the NDA in third front.

The CPI-M, the largest Indian leftist group that is expected to bag up to 40 seats in the 545-member parliament, will play a vital role in installing a non-NDA coalition.

Basu, who came close to becoming prime minister in 1998, is clear that supporting a Congress-led coalition was the only viable way to keep the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led NDA out of power.

Addressing election rallies in support of CPI-M candidates in West Bengal, he has repeatedly said his party would support Congress president Sonia Gandhi's candidature for the prime minister's post.

But others in the party believe the option of erecting a third front government should be explored first.

"Discussions have begun in Delhi on the third front," said West Bengal Chief Minister and CPI-M politburo member Buddhadeb Bhattacharya.

The pro-third front camp in the CPI-M has been encouraged by exit poll figures that show a considerable fall in the number of seats initially expected to be bagged by the BJP and the Congress.

"The party line is clear. First, explore the option of a third front. If that fails, a Congress-led coalition can be supported," a senior CPI-M leader said.

But, Basu appears convinced that the non-BJP and non-Congress parties were too disparate to form their own coalition.

The CPI-M's compulsion in trying the third front first is understandable because at least three of its partners in West Bengal's ruling coalition oppose the idea of supporting the Congress.

The Forward Bloc, the Communist Party of India and the Revolutionary Socialist Party have always dissented whenever the CPI-M as broached the issue of support to the Congress.

The party is hoping that it can convince its coalition partners to support a Congress-led government if it is proved that all other options of stopping the NDA from taking power have been exhausted.

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