KARNATAKA

Deve Gowda, Fernandes meet

Mysore Nov. 13. The Defence Minister and JD(United) President, George Fernandes, held a closed-door meeting with the former Prime Minister and JD(S) President, H.D. Deve Gowda, here on Thursday.

Mr. Fernandes and Mr. Gowda met for more than 45 minutes at the Government Guest-house. They were here to attend the wedding of Pratima Prasad, daughter of the Union Minister of State for Consumer Affairs, V. Srinivas Prasad.

Although Mr. Gowda made light of the event and declared that no political inference need be drawn, observers here point out that the meeting comes barely a day after Mr. Gowda announced that polarisation of political forces had commenced while addressing a public rally in which five legislators of the All-India Progressive Janata Dal (AIPJD) joined the JD(S).

The meeting assumes significance in view of a statement by Mr. Fernandes hinting at a close association of like-minded parties, when he was made President of the JD(U) after the merger of the Samata Party and the JD(U). The JD(U) now has a combined strength of 18 seats in the Lok Sabha, and is keen to expand its tally in the next elections. Mr. Fernandes was quoted as saying that he would be in touch with groups within the NDA and those outside it.

The JD(U) is contesting about 100 seats in the States where Assembly polls are to be held next month. It has not held seat-sharing talks with the BJP. It is felt that today's meeting could be a precursor to a major realignment of political forces and merger of various JD factions before the Lok Sabha elections next year.

However, Mr. Gowda told presspersons after the meeting that Mr. Fernandes was the convenor of the NDA and a part of the Union Government. The JD(S) was keen on maintaining equidistance from both the BJP and the Congress, and any talks would be held only after those in the alliance withdrew from it. He described Mr. Fernandes as an "old friend". He had decided to spend some time with him because they were meeting after a long time, according to Mr. Gowda.

Commenting on the strength of the JD(S), Mr Gowda said it was formidable in Kerala and Maharashtra, besides Karnataka. It was not averse to sharing seats with like-minded parties in the coming elections in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

Asked if there was any scope for the revival of the Third Front, Mr. Gowda said the results of the elections would lead to a polarisation and realignment of political forces.

He said that the NDA partners had protested against certain policies of the Government, and it would not be correct to say that those in the alliance supported the Government and the ideology of the BJP.