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Congress faces isolation, even friend CPM upset

Congress faces isolation, even friend CPM upset

Author: Seema Mustafa
Publication: The Asian Age
Date: December 21, 2002

The Congress party is in danger of being isolated by the handful of parties that were prepared to break bread with it just before the Gujarat polls.

"I will not go to them now at all, they can forget about it," might be the petulant reaction of Samajwadi leader Amar Singh, but even the CPI(M), a friend and ally, is particularly unhappy over the Congress alliance with tribal extremists in Tripura.

"It is going to be a bitter fight between us and the Congress," admitted senior politburo member Prakash Karat after a visit to Tripura. The Congress, guided by Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar, has struck a deal with the relatively new Indigenous National Party of Tripura that has been reportedly floated by the National Liberation Front of Tripura. In a bid to cut into the votes of "these Marxists," Mr Aiyar has now picked up on a relationship with the tribal extremists that was started by his friend and mentor, the late Prime Minister Rajeev Gandhi.

The tribal belt is currently held by the CPI(M), which has 17 of the 20 Assembly seats in the area. The CPI(M) has been at the receiving end of the violence, losing its cadres and their families to INPT militants almost every day. The INPT is reportedly being sheltered in 51 training camps in Bangladesh and crosses the border for well targeted strikes before returning to the neighbouring country for sanctuary. The hatred in the Tripura CPI(M) cadres against the Congress for giving credibility to the extremists through this alliance is causing concern to the central leadership, which is worried about a ripple-down effect that could hit a larger

understanding in Delhi.

The Congress, according to sources here, is well aware of the CPI(M)'s hold on tribal areas. Mr Aiyar's decision to ally with the extremists, according to Left sources, is aimed at terrorising the voters and moving them away from the CPI(M). In fact, the Congress leader has not bothered to hide his ambition to defeat the Marxists on their home turf with the stage now being set for what Left activists have no hesitation in admitting will be a "war."

The Congress rejection of coalitions and alliances has cost it at least 15 seats in Gujarat. Political leaders who totted up the poll percentages in each seat have identified 15 seats where the combined vote of the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party was more than that of the BJP. The Congress was not interested in an alliance from the beginning, rejecting moves by the NCP to strike a deal. The Samajwadi Party and the NCP contested the polls with their leaders campaigning against both the BJP and the Congress. "We proved that the Congress was the B-team of the BJP in Gujarat," said Mr Amar Singh, particularly happy with the Congress rout at the hustings. However, his candidates all lost their deposits and while the NCP tally did not really rise more than five per cent in a constituency, it made the crucial difference for the Congress.

Except for RJD leader Laloo Prasad Yadav, the Congress is on uncertain ground now in the field of possible alliances. AIADMK leader Jayalalitha has irretrievably joined hands with the BJP while the Congress itself remains in an eternal quandary over the choice between the Left Front and the Trinamul Congress in West Bengal. "We cannot move into an alliance with the Left parties, for then what will happen to us and Mamata," a senior Congress leader asked. There is considerable goodwill towards the Lokjanshakti Party in the Congress, particularly as both Mr Ram Vilas Paswan and Mr Arif Mohammed Khan had campaigned for it despite being offered only one seat. But here, too, "what about Mr Paswan's differences with Lalooji" is the unresolved question for Congress leaders.

The states going to the polls in February include Tripura, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Himachal Pradesh. Direct contests are developing between the Congress and the CPI(M) in Tripura and the Congress and the BJP in Himachal Pradesh. The next round of elections are likely to be held in October in Mizoram, Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. The last four states will again witness a direct contest between the Congress and the BJP with the former currently in power in all these states.

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