Parties talk in bid to keep BJP out


INDIAN left wingers held crucial talks with the Congress Party yesterday in a potentially decisive turnabout to their bitter rivalry, focusing instead on preventing a right wing Hindu nationalist surge.

Leaders of the National Front Left Front (NF-LF) alliance said they were holding talks with senior ministers in the caretaker Prime Minister, Mr P.V. Narasimha Rao's cabinet in a bid to stop a Hindu nationalist government from taking power.

The Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), staked its claim to power on Saturday after a strong showing in general elections that made it the largest party in a hung parliament.

"We have held talks with senior Congress ministers," a prominent member of the NF-LF said. "There is a general agreement that no effort should be spared to stop the BJP from forming its government."

The sources said if the two groups could succeed in doing that, then they could go on to roll back the Hindu nationalist gains by forging a wider alliance to fight the BJP in impending state assembly elections.

The BJP has won state elections in the last year in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan, cutting into the electoral base of Congress, India's oldest political machine. Uttar Pradesh is due to elect a state assembly within four months. Stopping the BJP there could be crucial, the sources said.

In the general elections, the BJP made further inroads in Uttar Pradesh. It made surprising gains in neighbouring Bihar, mounting a serious challenge to the NF-LF bases there.

NF-LF leaders, who fought the elections on an anti-BJP, anti Congress platform, reversed their opposition to Mr Rao after results left them in no position to check the BJP on their own.

President Shankar Dayal Sharma, who was handed two rival claims for government by the BJP and the NF-LF on Saturday, is expected to decide whom to choose as prime minister in the next few days. The BJP has picked Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee as its prime ministerial choice. Octogenarian Marxist, Mr Jyoti Basu is the left wing parties' consensus candidate, while Mr Rao, master of the backroom deal, squashed a revolt in his party and was reelected head of its parliamentary group.

India's former "Bandit Queen" Ms Phoolan Devi, was elected to India's lower house of parliament yesterday after campaigning against child labour in carpet manufacturing.

Ms Devi (35), standing for the left leaning Samajwadi Party, from Mirzapur, in Uttar Pradesh, shot to notoriety after 22 upper caste men were killed at Behmai village in 1981.

She was accused of leading a gang in the massacre but she denied the murder charges. She surrendered to police in 1983 and spent more than 10 years on remand in prison.

Ms De vi, from the low caste Mallah community, defeated a member of BJP by 37,000 votes.

During campaigning, Ms Devi pledged to stop the use of child labour in carpet manufacturing.

She has been at the centre of a controversy over a film based on her life. The film, Bandit Queen, won critical acclaim but was banned for a time in India because it included nudity and rape scenes. The Supreme Court lifted the ban on May 1st.