SITARAM Kesri could not make it to the promised land. On April 18, he penned another letter to. President Shankar Dayal Sharma-the third since he withdrew Congress support to the UF His party no longer harboured the dream to lead the government, he wrote. He would be content with a leadership change: anyone from the UF but H.D. Deve Gowda.
Once the UF decided on I.K. Gujral, Kesri was smiling, but not too broadly. Anticipating the belligerent mood of partymen, he called off a scheduled Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) meet on April 20. The CPP, which doesn't quite agree that Gowda's exit is a victory for the Congress, would have surely cornered him for the way he handled the issue. Congress MPs are sore with Kesri for a host of things. Primarily, the series of unilateral moves: withdrawing support, then staking claim to form the government, and then the retreat. "He has held the President, the Congress, the UF and the political system to ransom. He single-handedly created a political and economic crisis and we will not condone him," burst out a senior Congress MP.
Though Kesri's hatred for Gowda scaled a new high after he ripped him apart during the parliamentary debate on April 11, the Congress chief had to change tack under pressure. The Left parties rubbed it in when they said they could not trust Kesri's verbal assurances that he wouldn't bid for power--they wanted it in writing. Kesri yielded and sent party general secretary Oscar Fernandes to the President to withdraw his claim.
Humiliated by the UF, Kesri even contemplated suspending Sharad Pawar for Kesrl and Pawar: mutual distrust not defending him in Parliament but was warned against it by senior camp leaders Pranab Mukherjee and K. Karunakaran, who said that would only split the party.
In Congress Working Committee meetings, Kesri said he had never desired any position--PM or Congress president--but that he ambushed the UF to "save the party from Gowda's sinister designs".
Once Gujral's selection came through, Kesri made the right noises: "We will cooperate with the new government. After all, Gujral has been in the Congress and will not intend to do any harm to us." Most crisis-weary MPs, however, are not buying Kesri's argument.
With Kesri's retreat, the political uncertainty may have diminished. But his own troubles have just begun--partymen will never forgive him for this public loss of face. One option is to strip him of his post in the All India Congress Committee session, sometime next month, if not before.