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Slipping on secularism?

IT IS not just about the Iran vote, the airport modernisation or FDI in retail. For the first time since the UPA-Left coordination panel was set up about 20 months back, the Left on Monday made it known to the Congress its dissatisfaction about the latter's handling of political issues. More specifically, on the Congress's inability to prevent "communal forces" from coming to power in Jharkhand, Bihar and more recently, Karnataka. The Congress had forged a coalition in 2004 by emphasising the need for secular parties to come together to oust the BJP-NDA from power at the Centre.

india Updated: Feb 14, 2006 01:21 IST

Left tells UPA it will have to do better against BJP

IT IS not just about the Iran vote, the airport modernisation or FDI in retail. For the first time since the UPA-Left coordination panel was set up about 20 months back, the Left on Monday made it known to the Congress its dissatisfaction about the latter's handling of political issues. More specifically, on the Congress's inability to prevent "communal forces" from coming to power in Jharkhand, Bihar and more recently, Karnataka.

The Congress had forged a coalition in 2004 by emphasising the need for secular parties to come together to oust the BJP-NDA from power at the Centre.

After the coordination panel, CPM leader Prakash Karat told reporters: "We gave our views on the current political situation… We tried to point out that in people's perception, the government's image is being affected.'' He did not elaborate on it but ruled out a third alternative in the immediate future.

The Congress, however, has a different take on the issues, including Bihar, where the CPI and the Lok Janshakti set up a parallel secular front.

Until now, the Left's main grouse has been the Centre's handling of economic and foreign policy issues, including airport modernisation, the bidding process, FDI in retail and the controversial Iran vote. These issues also came up at the coordination panel meeting on Monday, with the Left expressing "deep concern" at the manner in which the government ignored them and "went ahead with certain policy decisions". At the meeting, the Left leaders decided to talk straight when they met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and other senior ministers.

Though Karat ruled out a "no-confidence motion" against the government on the Iran issue, he made it clear that the Left will "decide what to do next" if India supports the US-EU moves against Tehran at the crucial March 6 IAEA meet. He told the Congress leaders that the Left would approach non-Congress, non-BJP parties to evolve a common strategy on this and other issues.

Privately, Left leaders said they would bring a censure motion or seek a debate under Rule 184 (which entails a vote) in Parliament if the government once again decides to vote against Iran. Keeping in view the significance of the March 6 meeting, the Left demanded a debate in both Houses on the Iran issue so that the people know how Parliament looks at it. The government agreed to it. But the meeting failed to resolve the differences on the contentious issues. So much so, that the two held separate briefings. Finance Minister P. Chidambaram admitted there were differences with the Left on certain issues. And to answer the Left's concerns over economic issues, the government, he said, will convene another coordination meeting before the Budget.

He said the government would last its full term and there was no threat from the Left parties because of their commitment to secularism and social justice. Even the Left privately admits there is no threat to the government. Karat, along with CPI's A.B. Bardhan and D. Raja and RSP's Abani Roy, told the coordination panel — and mediapersons later — that the government's image was getting affected because of its policies.

Karat expressed disappointment over the panel's functioning saying that the "experience has not been as productive as expected".

First Published: Feb 14, 2006 01:21 IST