Campaign heats up, Manmohan stays coolly confident (Intro Political Roundup)

April 20th, 2009 - 10:26 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, April 20 (IANS) The political temperature rose in tandem with the mercury Monday, three days before round two of India’s general elections, but the prime minister exuded confidence that his Congress party and its allies would form India’s next government, with support from the Communist parties if necessary.
Manmohan Singh’s remarks came on a day when the Congress came under attack from ally Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) while Congress leaders continued to target Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani.

But appearing unfazed by any attack, Manmohan Singh said the Congress and its allies would form the next government. However, he left the door open for an alliance with Communist parties, saying “all options are open”.

“The Congress and its allies will form the next government,” the prime minister told journalists at his home when asked whether he was optimistic about forming the next government.

“If we can form the government on our own, it’s so much the better. But if perchance there is a need for others to come in and support us, all options are open,” he said in reply to a question on whether he was open to the idea of taking support of the Left in case the numbers did not add up.

“I am not ruling anyone out, I am not ruling anyone in,” the prime minister said cryptically. “We will cross the bridge when we come to it.”

Asked specifically about the Left’s opposition to the India-US nuclear deal that led them to withdraw support to the ruling coalition and whether he had any hopes of the Communists supporting the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) again, the prime minister said: “We have worked with them in the past. Why can’t we work with them again? It’s all part of democratic politics.”

The Communists have ruled out support to the UPA after the elections unless it puts the nuclear deal in cold storage. In their manifestoes, the Left parties have said that if a government is formed with their support, they will press for a review of the nuclear deal which they fear will suck India into a strategic alliance with the US.

The prime minister dismissed the Left’s contention as campaign rhetoric, saying the Left was not against building better relations with the US though they had a problem with calling it a “strategic” alliance.

Apart from the prime minister’s confidence, there was some relief for the Congress as Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi retracted his Sunday’s statement and said the LTTE was a terrorist outfit after all. His statement the previous day that LTTE boss V. Prabhakaran was his friend had reopened old wounds in the Congress.

“They did not start off as a terrorist group,” Karunanidhi said Monday in Chennai. “They began as a liberation group but it has now become a terrorist organisation.”

“We have not forgotten Sriperumbudur,” he added, referring to the small town near Chennai where a LTTE suicide bomber assassinated former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi at an election rally in May 1991. The Congress had earlier expressed dismay at Karunanidhi’s comments Sunday.

But another ally of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan, accused the Congress of being responsible for the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992.

Last week, another UPA ally, Lalu Prasad of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), had said the Congress had to take the blame along with the BJP for the demolition of the Babri Masjid which led to widespread communal riots.

“What wrong has he (Lalu Prasad) said?” Paswan asked at a poll rally in his Hajipur constituency in Bihar.

He took potshots at the Congress, stating it had fielded a candidate against him in Hajipur “when they know that they cannot garner even 2,000 votes. What are they trying to prove?”

The Congress reacted with its spokesman Rajiv Shukla telling reporters here that “by attacking the Congress, he (Lalu Prasad) is strengthening communal forces. All his allegations against the Congress are wrong.”

Elsewhere on the campaign trail, Congress president Sonia Gandhi in Maharashtra and general secretary Rahul Gandhi in Assam repeated their charge that Advani was trying to evade responsibility for the handover of three terrorists during the 1999 hijack of an Indian airliner to Kandahar in Afghanistan. Advani was the home minister at the time.

BJP president Rajnath Singh responded by saying at a poll rally in Lucknow that the “central government’s inordinate delay in carrying out the death sentence awarded to (2001) parliament terror attack convict Afzal Guru showed the real face of the Congress”.

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