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It was not easy to extend support to the United Front government in June 1996

The Uttar Pradesh Fiasco

The United Front's commitment to secularism was first put to test when the question of isolating and confronting the communal forces arose in the context of the UP Vidhan Sabha elections in 1996.

In these elections, the people of Uttar Pradesh denied a simple majority to the BJP. But the United Front failed to respond to the wishes of the people that a secular, non-BJP government be installed in Lucknow.

The Congress pleaded for an alliance among the United Front, the BSP and the Congress. Its pleas were ignored.

The Congress president took the unprecedented step of attending internal meetings of the United Front to champion the cause of Mayawati, a Dalit and a woman, as chief minister of a non-BJP alliance in UP.

But his pleas fell on deaf ears.

The stalemate continued for a long time and ultimately a BJP-BSP government was formed.

Uttar Pradesh in 1996 was the first test case of the United Front's commitment to halting the spread of communal forces.

The UF failed in this test in spite of constant prodding by the Congress.

The BJP-BSP coalition in UP just could not last. Actually it was not a coalition; it was a travesty, a daily-wage government formed on a contract basis. This broke apart in just six months as the Congress had anticipated.

Once again, an opportunity arose to give the 12 crore people of Uttar Pradesh a truly secular government with a clear development agenda.

Once again, the Congress pleaded with the United Front.

Once again, the United Front could not separate personalities from principles.

Once again, a communal government was allowed to be foisted on the people of India's most populous state.

Many of the United Front constituents had made common cause with the BJP in the past in their pursuit of anti-Congressism.

It was perhaps too much to expect these parties that had hobnobbed with the BJP in the past, to join the Congress in its crusade against communalism in Uttar Pradesh.

These parties failed Uttar Pradesh at a most crucial moment in spite of the best efforts of the Congress.

The United Front did not hesitate to take its anti-Congressism to absurd lengths. It wanted the Congress to fight communal forces alone while it continued to enjoy power with the support of the Congress.

No self-respecting political party can accept such an absurd proposition.

It was not easy for the Congress to extend support to the United Front government in June 1996.

The Congress is directly in opposition to some of the UF constituents in states like West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka, Orissa, Assam and Bihar.

Yet, keeping the national perspective and the country's needs in mind, the Congress consciously decided not to allow opposition at the state-level to prevent cooperation at the national level. Such instances are rare.

Attempts to Split the Congress

In April 1996 the Congress asked the UF to change its leadership since it had built up firm evidence that the agencies of the government were being used blatantly to subvert the Congress.

Day in and day out, the Congress was subject to abuse from some constituents of the UF.

The Congress kept quiet.

Sadly, there was no effort made by the UF to institutionalise cooperation and consultation with the Congress even though Congress support was crucial to the UF's existence.

Rajiv Gandhi's assassination and the Jain Commission

The Jain Commission was set up in 1991 with two terms of reference.

The first was to inquire into the circumstances and events leading to the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.

The second was to inquire into the conspiracy by persons and its wider ramifications.

The Jain Commission's report on the first term of reference was submitted on August 28th, 1997. It was then placed on the table of both the houses of Parliament on November 20, 1997.

The report has exhaustively dealt with the role of a section of the DMK party, and of the then Tamil Nadu government headed by Karunanidhi in aiding and abetting the LTTE.

The report has conclusively demonstrated that such support was extended even after the LTTE took a hostile anti-India and anti-Rajiv Gandhi attitude following the signing of the Indo-Sri Lanka agreement in 1987.

The Congress was aware of the understanding between a section of the DMK and the LTTE. The Congress was also aware of the way the LTTE exploited to its advantage the sentiment of support it enjoyed within a section of the DMK.

All these facts were commonly known but it is for the first time they have been brought on record, on the basis of oral and documentary evidence, in the report of a Commission of Inquiry.

There may be differences in regard to the legal interpretation of the extent of involvement but it is beyond doubt that the LTTE killed Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991.

The LTTE could not have killed Rajiv Gandhi without the support and assistance it received from the DMK-led government and a section of the DMK leadership.

The basic question that any Congress worker has to grapple with is clear.

How could the Congress continue to support the United Front government, a constituent of which is held by a Commission of Inquiry to be the abettor of an agency that killed the Congress president, a former Congress prime minister and a future Congress prime minister?

The attitude of Inder Kumar Gujral's government was ambivalent, to say the least.

On the one hand Gujral, both through letters and orally, continued to give expression to the sentiments that all the circumstances leading to the assassination and the conspiracy angle would be inquired into and the culprits exposed.

But, in fact, the government headed by him failed to place before the commission vital documents needed for it to complete its inquiry into the conspiracy aspect.

By withdrawing support from a government of which the DMK was a part, all that the Congress was doing was to voice its deep concern, a concern shared by no less an individual than the prime minister and the head of the government himself.

How else was the Congress party expected to show its respect to a leader who sacrificed his life while campaigning for the party?

With what moral authority could the Congress claim to seek the support of the people and pledge to work for them if it did not take the next logical step arising out of the conclusion of the Commission of Inquiry reached after six years of painstaking investigation?

The Jain Commission is not just a judicial issue.

It is much more than that.

It is a moral issue.

It is an emotional issue.

It is an issue that just cannot be ignored and wished away. It affects the Congress to its very core.

The Congress does not believe that the LTTE was harboured and supported by all Tamils.

All that it says is that the Commission of Inquiry has found a section of a DMK-managed administration and a section of the DMK party leadership guilty of supporting the LTTE even at a time when it was clear that the LTTE had become anti-Indian.

It is the support in the period after 1987 that is in question.

Tamil personalities rendered yeoman service during the freedom movement.

Who can fail to get inspired by Subramania Bharati and the nationalist feelings he aroused all over the country?

Who can forget Rajaji, described by Gandhiji as his conscience keeper?

How can any Congress worker forget Satyamurthy? How can the Congress not remember with pride Kamaraj, one of its most distinguished presidents?

And who can forget Periyar, who ignited a social reform movement that is a beacon to the rest of the country?

The DMK itself initially preached secession. But Annadurai ultimately became a fervent champion of national integration and unity.

Right through the 1950s and 1960s till date, successive Congress governments took up the cause of Sri Lankan Tamils. Pandit Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi entered into various agreements to protect the basic human rights of our Tamil brethren in Sri Lanka.

Rajiv Gandhi also felt deeply for the Sri Lankan Tamils.

But he was clear that any solution to the Tamil problem in Sri Lanka had to be found within the constitutional framework of Sri Lanka and in such a manner that the unity and integrity of Sri Lanka was protected and preserved.

India's support to the LTTE ceased in 1987 when it became clear that the LTTE's objective was to break up Sri Lanka.

This is the background against which the Congress demanded that one of the representatives of a 13-party coalition be dropped from the government.

The Congress made a simple request to the UF: drop the three DMK ministers from the council of ministers. The UF refused.

Informally, the Congress even suggested temporary exclusion of the three DMK ministers from the government pending an independent evaluation of the findings of the Jain Commission's report on the role of the DMK.

The UF once again refused.

The Congress wants to tell the nation that under no circumstances was it prepared to compromise on the issue of the assassination of its leader Rajiv Gandhi.

The Congress considers it its dharma to pursue vigorously the inquiry into the conspiracy which resulted in this dastardly act.

The Congress will spare no effort to see that the conspirators are exposed and dealt with according to law.

When the UF and the Congress were negotiating a way out, what was the BJP doing?

The BJP was making brazen and shameless efforts to buy MPs from different parties to create an artificial majority. Appeals for defection were made by senior leaders of the BJP.

Their blind lust for power made BJP leaders reckless adventurers devoid of minimum scruples. They offered money to MPs. They offered ministerial berths. What they did in UP was sought to be repeated in Delhi.

They coined new phrases.

Defection became realignment of forces.

Criminalisation of politics was given respectability in the name of a janadesh.

But the BJP failed miserably.

The stubbornness of the UF and the adventurism of the BJP forced this mid-term poll on the country.

In a representative democracy, elections are the only way of establishing the will of the people.

Unholy combinations and unnatural alliances would have subverted Indian democracy if the 12th Lok Sabha elections had not been called.

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