Arjun Singh was upset CPI-M didn’t make Jyoti Basu PM: Sitaram

New Delhi : CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury says Congress leader Arjun Singh never probably forgave him after his party vetoed the proposal to make Marxist veteran Jyoti Basu the prime minister in 1996.

The deceased Congress veteran was not pleased with the Communist Party of India-Marxist for not allowing Basu to become the prime minister after the 1996 Lok Sabha polls threw up a hung parliament.

This — and more — is revealed in a souvenir released on Saturday by the Arjun Singh Sadbhavna Foundation on the occasion of the first Arjun Singh memorial lecture. It was delivered by President Pranab Mukherjee.

The souvenir, released by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, has articles and obituaries to the Congress leader from a galaxy of politicians and his former associates.

“Arjun Singhji was probably the first senior political leader in the country who told me that it is important for me to enter parliament,” wrote Yechury, now general secretary of the Communist Party of India- Marxist (CPI-M), recalling his association with Arjun Singh.

The centre-Left United Front coalition had in 1996 proposed that West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu should become the prime minister.

Hardliners in the CPI-M led by Prakash Karat vetoed the idea. The proposal was made a second time, but the CPI-M reiterated its majority decision although it was known that Basu himself was in favour of taking up the post.

Years later, a peeved Basu described the party’s veto as a “historic blunder”.

“Arjun Singhji probably never forgave me for the decision taken by the CPI-M central committee in not allowing Jyoti Basu to become (the) prime minister of India,” Yechury said.

Yechury, in his article, does not deal with the intra-CPI-M controversy but says: “Arjun Singh played an important role then (1996) in the formation of the United Front.”

After the CPI-M’s ‘no’ to Basu, H.D. Deve Gowda became the prime minister.

In his piece, NCP leader Sharad Pawar recalled his association with Arjun Singh and talked about their differences vis-a-vis the economic liberalization policy of then finance minister Manmohan Singh.

Pawar, who was defence minister in the Rao government, says: “When Manmohan Singh was bringing in economic liberalization at a faster speed, while I supported Manmohan Singh, Arjun Singh was opposed to this.”

Among others, Sheila Dikshit, former Delhi chief minister, another associate of Arjun Singh, wrote: “His (Singh’s) split with the governance of P.V. Narasimha Rao was based on principles and not on a desire for self aggrandizement.

“His sincere belief was that the principles of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi were being overlooked. Therefore, he took the bold step of splitting the party.”

Arjun Singh walked out of the Rao government in December 1994 and formed the Indira Congress-Tiwari along with another party veteran. N.D. Tiwari.

Among others, Congress leader A.K. Antony wrote about how he worked closely with Arjun Singh to bring about the Mizoram Accord that brought peace to the northeastern state in 1986.

Former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh wrote that Arjun Singh would always be his “unparalleled mentor”.

Another Madhya Pradesh Congress leader, Kamal Nath, echoed the view, saying Arjun Singh had played a mentor’s role in the lives of many young politicians.