Page last updated at 07:58 GMT, Tuesday, 14 April 2009 08:58 UK

Leftist rules out Congress tie-up

By Sanjeev Srivastava
BBC Hindi service, India editor

Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Prakash Karat
Mr Karat has ruled himself out of the post of PM

The leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) Prakash Karat has ruled out supporting any Congress party-led alliance after the elections.

He said the left would not tie up with Congress "whatever the circumstances".

Mr Karat's comments set to rest speculation that the two forces could come together again in any post-election coalition.

The left backed Congress after the last polls, but pulled out after the controversial India-US nuclear deal.

The Communists strongly opposed the civilian nuclear agreement.

Polling gets under way in India's marathon election on Thursday.

'Defeat the Congress'

The Communists would not support Congress even if it were the only way to prevent the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from coming to power, Mr Karat, the CPI(M) general secretary, told the BBC Hindi service in an exclusive interview.

"That (preventing the BJP's return to power at any cost) was our slogan in the 2004 elections. This time we are going to the people with an appeal to defeat the Congress as well."

Mr Karat said the party's top decision making body, the central committee, had already approved this stance.

Prakash Karat with Mayawati
Mr Karat is considered the main architect of the third front

The leftist parties supported the Congress-led coalition for more than four years after the surprise defeat of the BJP in the 2004 national elections.

The relationship was always an uneasy one with the Communists disapproving of the economic reform policies of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

But the need to keep the BJP out of power meant the Communists tried to stall whatever economic reforms they could and compromise on other issues.

This approach helped both sides avoid a showdown.

But the end came with the the India-US civil nuclear deal last year.

The parting was bitter and Mr Karat once again said that if his party had any influence in the next government, it would renegotiate - and if necessary - even terminate the nuclear deal.

"There is a clause in the agreement which allows either side to terminate the agreement," he said.

PM's job

Mr Karat - considered to be the main architect of the "third front" in Indian politics - said it would be wrong to describe the 10 or so parties under its umbrella as an opportunistic alliance whose sole aim was to somehow come to power.

"We have a shared ideology on [anti-economic reform] and we are all opposed to a strategic relationship with the US. Also we favour a truly federal structure in a country as vast as India."

Mr Karat said his party would consider joining the next government if it felt it could meaningfully influence policies.

He said it would not be difficult for the third front to select a prime minister.

"Many leaders are competent. From our point of view we have no pre-conceived notions on who the prime minister should be. We are more concerned about the policies of the next government."

However, he ruled himself out of the race.

"I am very happy being the party general secretary and would rather retain this than have any other role in public life."

Mr Karat is seen by many as a man driven by ideology rather than a desire to wield political power for personal gain and so has earned the grudging respect of even those who do not agree with his ideology.

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