Eight regional parties form front, oppose nuke deal


Hyderabad : Former Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalitha Wednesday announced the formation of an eight-party political front to provide a "viable alternative" to the ruling Congress-led United Progressive Alliance and the opposition National Democratic Alliance, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party.

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Jayalalitha told reporters here that the grouping would consist of her AIADMK, the Samajwadi Party, Telugu Desam Party (TDP), MDMK, Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), Kerala Congress and Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM).

She said the yet-to-be-named front would be based on new pro-poor economic policies and adherence to secularism. One of its first policy positions, announced by Jayalalitha, was opposition to the India-US nuclear deal.

"Whether we are going to call this the Third Front is yet to be decided but our aim is to provide a viable national alternative to the BJP- and Congress-led fronts," Jayalalitha said.

"We are not power crazy or power seekers," she added.

Jayalalitha made the announcement after a meeting of the leaders of seven of the parties and said the Kerala Congress had sent a letter agreeing to join the front.

Those who attended the meeting at the home of TDP chief and former Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu were Jayalalitha, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh (Samajwadi Party), Babulal Marandi (JVM), Vaiko (MDMK), Brindavan Goswami (AGP), Om Prakash Chautala (INLD) and host Naidu.

Jayalalitha, Naidu, Mulayam Singh, Marandi and Chautala are all former chief ministers.

"All the leaders who were present here today had very wide-ranging and fruitful discussions on several issues of national importance. All the leaders resolved to firmly oppose the Indo-US nuclear deal, which, we feel, is totally detrimental to India's interests. We have all resolved to firmly oppose this deal," said Jayalalitha after the three-hour long meeting.

Jayalalitha said more political parties are set to join the front at the next meeting, to be held in Chennai later this month, but declined to name them. The Chennai meeting will chalk out the front's strategy for the coming presidential and vice-presidential elections.

Asked if the Left parties would be invited to join, she said it depended on them. "Our front is open to all secular parties interested in nation-building," she said.

At Wednesday's meeting the regional parties deferred a decision on their strategy for the presidential polls, and Naidu dismissed reports that the grouping may support Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat if he enters the fray as an independent candidate.

Naidu, who was convenor of the United Front in the mid-1990s, said that the purpose of the regional parties coming together was nation-building – by taking up important national issues, such as benefits of economic reforms not reaching the poor, inflation, the plight of farmers and the Indo-US unclear deal.

He alleged that national parties had failed in meeting the aspirations of the people.

Pointing out that the Congress which had once described regional parties as "anti-national" had now formed the central government with their support, Naidu said that regional parties are set to play a key role in national politics as coalition governments are here to stay.

"Today the regional parties are giving better leadership and also fulfilling the aspirations of the people. That is why we have very strong regional leaders. If there is an alternative to the Congress and the BJP, people are preferring it," he said.

Apart from the Indo-US nuclear deal, Jayalalitha said the leaders also discussed a "new economic policy, which has to be taken up and implemented by the central government."

"Very recently, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has admitted that even though India's growth rate has been quite impressive, yet real benefits have not reached the common man.

"In this context, we are extremely concerned and distressed at the all-round increase in prices of all essential commodities ever since the UPA government took over the reins of administration at the centre," Jayalalitha added.

She said that the front will issue a demand on the central government to provide "generous subsidies" to the agriculture sector – at the level of US subsidies.

"Today we find ourselves in a situation where most of the farmers are old people. Their children do not want to take up agriculture because it is totally unprofitable. We cannot afford to allow agriculture to decline this way."

On the central government's policy of promoting special economic zones the leaders said the sale and purchase of lands should be left to the farmers and the private sector companies that want to buy them.

The conclave was the second after the April 23-meeting at Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh, and attracted participation from two more parties – the JVM and MDMK – compared to the earlier meeting.