The United Front (UF) has decided to turn Thursdays breakfast meeting of 11 of its top leaders into a permanent feature for discussions on crucial issues, a senior Front leader said.
This has virtually created a new, but informal, committee over the steering committee, which is the highest decision making body of the 13-party Front that rules the country.
The new group was mooted by Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet and backed by Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda. The first meeting was hosted by Telugu Desam Party (TDP) leader and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu at Andhra Bhawan on Thursday. Naidu is the UF steering committee convenor.
The group will have 11 members, including Janata Dal president and Bihar Chief Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav, West Bengal Chief Minister and CPI (M) leader Jyoti Basu, Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) president G K Moopanar, Communist Party of India (CPI) general Secretary A B Bardhan, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister and National Conference (NC) leader Farooq Abdullah, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) M K leader M Karunanidhi, Union defence minister and Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, Assam Chief Minister and Asom Gana Parishad leader Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, besides the Prime Minister, Naidu and Surjeet.
Surjeet had proposed that the group should be smaller, with only one leader from the larger parties in the Front, but the Prime Minister insisted on the inclusion of the Chief Ministers of Bihar and West Bengal. Gowda is reported to have told the UF leaders that the absense of his party president might send out the wrong signal. He also insisted that Basu must be present.
Numerical strength is a factor in the constitution of this group. Smaller parties like the Forward Bloc, RSP, Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) besides the remaining members of the Congress-T would not be part of this group.
Explaining the rationale behind creating a smaller group, a senior UF leader said that several leaders from every component of the Front turn up at the steering committee meetings and newspersons get minute-by-minute account of these meetings. This makes it almost impossible for the Front partners to have a frank discussion on crucial issues.
A large number of the Janata Dal leaders, who have become permanent invitees at the steering committee, will not be in this committee. They include Sharad Yadav, Ram Vilas Paswan, I K Gujral, Srikant Jena. Others who will not attend the new group are Indrajit Gupta, Murasoli Maran, P Chidambaram, Sitaram Yechury, D Raja, Ram Gopal Yadav and Amar Singh. C M Ibrahim, who used to be a permanent fixture too, has stayed away from recent steering committee meetings.
Maran was present at Thursdays breakfast meeting, but another leader explained that he was simply accompanying Karunanidhi. In future, all invitations are to be by name and not addressed to the parties.
The initial proposal was that the new group should meet once in a fortnight. However, for the convenience of the various Chief Ministers in the group, they decided to meet at least once a month.