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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Silent treatment

Flare-up with NCP shows how Congress culture of opaqueness creates problems for UPA

Written by The Indian Express | Published: July 21, 2012 12:05:59 am

Just when it seemed that the Congress had won a reprieve from its several ally troubles,came a warning of another repressed storm flaring to the UPA’s surface. Earlier this week,there was some restiveness in the NCP after the Congress indicated that,following Pranab Mukherjee’s exit,Defence Minister A.K. Antony,not Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar,would be elevated to the No. 2 position in the government. Then,what began as a controversy over seating arrangements appeared to balloon into a full-blown crisis. It remains to be seen whether the NCP was merely ratcheting up pressure ahead of a cabinet reshuffle or sending out an early signal for a renegotiation of its position in 2014. But this much is clear: the latest episode has once again underlined the lack of communication within the UPA. The absence of regular and predictable channels of communication between the Congress and its partners has at least two related effects. One,the Congress is not able to prevent or pre-empt a crisis before it bursts into public view. And two,allies are pushed into arm-twisting and grandstanding in public as a way of making themselves heard within the coalition.

Of course,lack of communication is a Congress affliction first and only later a UPA problem. Even in the matter of Pranab Mukherjee’s candidature for president,for instance,the party high command kept Mukherjee waiting and wondering till the absolute last moment. But while Congressmen and women may have learnt to adapt to this culture of opaqueness,allies have less reason to submit to it. At the governmental level,there are spaces and committees for the Congress to meet its allies — as ministers — but there are no institutionalised forums for the political leaderships of the parties in the UPA to interact with each other.

Mainly due to Left pressure,UPA 1 had mechanisms of political,not just governmental,coordination. UPA 2 has discarded them all. In effect,therefore,UPA 2 functions as a single-party government,rather than the coalition that it really is. The hostilities between the NCP and the Congress may blow over,if they haven’t already,but the Congress’s refusal to talk to its allies will continue to haunt the UPA.

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