UPA II government gets a breather. But for how long?

Mar 31, 2013, 00:53 IST | Raj Kanwar

When it began its second innings in 2009, the Congress-ledUnited Progressive Alliance was comfortably placed with 322 MPs including the outside supporters.

When it began its second innings in 2009, the Congress-ledUnited Progressive Alliance was comfortably placed with 322 MPs including the outside supporters. That happy positionhad come about after the creditable performance of the alliance parties in states such as Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. The Congress party on its strength alone had won 206 seats. At that time, it has had staunch allies in Trinamool Congress, DMK and the Nationalist Congress Party.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi at the  party’s three-day Chintan Shivir (brainstorming camp) in Jaipur

Much water has since flowed under the bridge; the Congress has had far too many crutches for its comfort. Its electoral allies had obviously nurtured their own dreams and merrily flaunted their proprietorial agendas. Mamata Banerjee’s TMC was the first to desert when its shrill demand for a special financial package for West Bengal was not favourably considered by Manmohan Singh and his then Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee. Piqued at Mukherjee’s uncompromising posture on the matter of such a special financial package, Mamata raised the banner of revolt and withdrew her ministers from Manmohan Singh’s ministry.

Over the period, other smaller partners like AIMIM and Jharkhand Vikas Morcha too parted ways. The desertion by Mamata’s 19 MPs was more than made up when curiously both Mayawati’s BSP and Mulayam’s SP extended to UPA II their support from outside, ostensibly without any conditions even though the two bitter rivals in Uttar Pradesh must have had in the bargain some kind of “pound of flesh”. Thus Manmohan Singh’s government continued to limp with fewer crutches, and grandiosely announced a string of reforms.

Enters stormy petrel Beni Prasad
The government at the Centre was cautiously trudging its way across many hurdles until its stormy petrel Beni Prasad Verma suddenly launched a virulent diatribe against the Samajwadi Party’s supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav. Verma used most vituperative invectives against a political leader of national stature whose party not only currently rules in Uttar Pradesh but who also nurtures ambition to be the country’s Prime Minister. Seething with rage, Mulayam launched a counter-attack on Verma, asking for his dismissal from the Union cabinet as the Steel Minister. The Lok Sabha watched tumultuous scenes; Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh both distanced themselves from Verma’s uncharitable remarks and even castigated him. Mrs Gandhi even went up to Mulayam’s seat in the Lok Sabha and tried to placate him.

By the next day, the strong heads in the party felt that discretion would be a better part of valour and accordingly decided to soften their hard stand on this nasty spat. At the end of a stormy party meeting, the obvious course was decided ie “to leave the final decision to party boss Mulayam Singh.” Thus in a big way, an imminent crisis facing the Manmohan Singh government was averted. Or has it?

Close on the heels of Mulayam’s tantrums, came the sudden challenge from Tamil Nadu where the sulking DMK rose in revolt demanding a sterner stand by India on supporting a resolution condemning Sri Lanka moved at the UNHRC meeting in Geneva. DMK not only withdrew its support from the government but five of its ministers also submitted their resignations.

Fair-weather friends
Once again, the UPA’s two outsider-allies from Uttar Pradesh came to its help, enabling the Congress-led UPA government to once again overcome the crisis. However, it is increasingly becoming clear that no government can provide even a semblance of governance, if it has to limp every foot of its way. Mayawati now wants reservations in promotions and that is opposed tooth and nail by Mulayam. It will thus be no surprise if either Mayawati or Mulayam Singh one day on mere whims withdraws the outside support that they have been extending to Manmohan Singh’s government. It is a pity that the political scenario in the country has become so complex and unpredictable at a time when India is in the grip of a low growth rate and high inflation. Unfortunately, the UPA government seems to have lost its bearings and determination that it had displayed so confidently a few months ago in successfully taking all comers on the matter of permitting 51 per cent FDI in retail trade.

BJP is no better
Yet, if the Congress is losing its credibility, its main rival BJP is no better. It would have been easier to assume that the drop in Congress popularity would bring about a proportionate rise in BJP’s popularity. Unfortunately, however, such is not the case. What an irony that India’s second largest party, dreaming of coming to power in the next general elections, and its arrogant leaders should have scored self-goal after self-goal.

Throwing his hat so early in the prime ministerial ring, Modi may have pre-empted other senior hopefuls in the party but he has frightened the support that the NDA could have mustered over the next few months. Let it be remembered that neither the Congress nor the BJP is in a position to emerge victorious in the 2014 general elections on their own intrinsic strength without cobbling together a cohesive coalition in many of the crucial states.

On the scale of general acceptability, Congress is somewhat more acceptable than BJP, its arch rival on the national scene. Given the choice, Bihar’s Nitish Kumar too would prefer to join a Congress-led alliance than the one put together by BJP. There is hardly any possibility of the emergence of a third front comprising non-BJP and non-Congress parties, since most of its partners will be mutually antagonistic, with their leaders nursing king-sized egos. One can’t even imagine a third front embracing leaders such like Mulayam, Mayawati, Mamata, Jayalalitha, Nitish Kumar!

A year is a long time
The general elections are due in the first quarter of 2014. A year is a long time in politics and any number of things could happen that would change the existing political equations or future alignments. The elections to the local bodies in Karnataka earlier this month gave the BJP — currently in power there — a rude shock. The state had been the party’s only citadel in the South. If BJP is to lose Karnataka, it can just as well go home and sleep. Having said all this, the political state of affairs in the country today does not hold much promise, unless both the Congress and BJP realise the utmost importance of inducting a spirit of bi-partisan politics in the country’s polity. However, expecting such a sensible development from the current crop of leaders will perhaps be too much of a good thing.

Raj Kanwar is a veteran journalist and author  

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