KERALA

Menon is not NDA candidate: Rajagopal

THRISSUR SEPT. 6. The Union Minister of State for Defence, O. Rajagopal, has said that the former Finance Minister, Viswanatha Menon, is contesting the Ernakulam by-election as an independent candidate and not as a nominee of either the NDA or the BJP.

Replying to questions at a `Meet-the Press' programme organised by the Thrissur Press Club today, Mr. Rajagopal clarified that Mr. Menon had neither approved the manifesto of the NDA nor had promised to support the Prime Minister. A.B. Vajpayee, in Parliament.

He said the BJP and the NDA partners were supporting him because he was an untainted politician and had come out of the CPI(M) saying that he would not be able to support the ascend of Sonia Gandhi to the post of Prime Minister of India. "Since he has taken such a patriotic stand we hope he will take such a position in Parliament as well,'' he said. The BJP would support such persons in future also because "the enemy of the enemy is our friend,'' Mr. Rajagopal said.

Asked whether it was correct on the part of the BJP to support Mr. Menon since he had said that he would remain as a Communist till death, the BJP leader said, "There is nothing wrong in it. People have a right to believe in different ideologies, and we can get along with them as long as they adhere to patriotic positions.''

He pointed out that the Ernakulam by-election was the first one to be held after the recent decision of the CPI(M) and the Congress to have wider alliances than mere floor-coordination in Parliament. "In that sense the by-election has a great significance not only for the State but also for whole nation. It will be an occasion for the people to put on record their opposition to the elevation of a person of foreign origin to the post of the Prime Minister," he said.

Asked what will be the BJP's response if Mr. Menon is defeated in the by-election, Mr. Rajagopal said "then we will say that we have put up a fight in the bastion of the Congress and the CPI(M).'' He, however, said that the BJP would not consider the by-election as referendum on the performance of the State Government, though the performance of the Government also would influence the electorate. The by-election would not be a referendum on the Central Government as well because other issues were being discussed here, he said.

Asserting that the Kerala politics was remaining frozen for the last 40 years with the choice confined to the UDF and the LDF alone, Mr. Rajagopal said this by-election had given out clear signals of the cracking up of both the Fronts and of new political polarisation. A real churning up of the political formations in the State may take place in this by-election. The traditional polarisation between the UDF and the LDF in Kerala had become irrelevant now because both the Fronts supported the same leader at the national level, he argued.

Mr. Rajagopal ruled out the possibility of the BJP clandestinely diverting its votes to the UDF in the Ernakulam by-election. "In the past there were some such charges. But the party's new State president has made it clear that those who indulge in such practices in future will be out of the party,'' he said

Mr. Rajagopal said it was for Mr. Menon to mobilise the support of the Karunakaran faction in the Congress and of other sections like the SNDP and the NDP. "We have no objection to his doing that, but we will not interfere in his efforts to woo various political and social factions.''Replying to a question, he said the NSS and SNDP had not evolved into vote banks and were still not political groups.

Making an indirect reference to the reported statement of the KPCC president, K. Muraleedharan, and some sections of Muslim leaders demanding that the State Government should set definite date for the rehabilitation of the people who had fled Marad, Mr. Rajagopal said, "rehabilitation of those who fled Marad cannot be done based on deadlines. It can be done only by taking steps to heal the wounds created by the killings there.''

Mr. Rajagopal reiterated the BJP State unit's charge that the State Government was desisting from ordering a CBI inquiry into the Marad killings to appease a section of the Muslim League leaders.

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