Nobody wants a poll

Why,despite all its fumbling,UPA 2 will survive for a while longer

Written by Coomi Kapoor | Published: March 22, 2012 3:16:36 am

Why,despite all its fumbling,UPA 2 will survive for a while longer

As we know from experience,it takes very little to topple a government. Chandra Shekhar’s government fell after Rajiv Gandhi complained about two Haryana police constables posted outside his house. A.B. Vajpayee’s government collapsed soon after Subramanian Swamy arranged a tea party for Sonia Gandhi and J. Jayalalithaa to re-connect. I.K. Gujral’s government ended because the Congress was upset that the DMK was indicted in the Jain Commission in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. In all these cases,the reasons for bringing down the governments were flimsy. It was simply that one or the other of the allies in the government saw an advantage in precipitating a fresh election.

With UPA 2,on the other hand,there is no shortage of genuine reasons for pulling down the government. Manmohan Singh’s government has an unfortunate knack of grossly mismanaging its relations with its coalition partners. The UPA parties are constantly on the edge,agitated over one issue or another. The start of this budget session was revealing. The Trinamool Congress and several regional parties were up in arms over the reference to the National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) in the presidential address. Since the regional parties had already voiced their protests over the NCTC,to unnecessarily rake it up in the address seemed either foolhardy or arrogant,or both. Then again,the government should have been better prepared for the demand by the DMK to support a UN resolution condemning the Sri Lankan government for human rights violations.

But the real “theatre of the absurd”,as opposition leader Arun Jaitley put it ,was Mamata Banerjee demanding the head of her own railway minister,Dinesh Trivedi,even before he could respond to the debate on the railway budget. The Congress and Trivedi himself were well aware that increasing railway fares without first consulting the TMC czarina was like brandishing a red rag before a raging bull. The Congress’s strategy to counter a continuously uncooperative Banerjee may be to induct the Samajwadi Party into the UPA fold,but the SP carries with it its own baggage,which in the long term may be just as troublesome for the Congress. By joining forces with the SP,Rahul Gandhi’s ambitious plans to resuscitate the party in Uttar Pradesh will be thwarted. Then the Congress will not be in a position to take on Akhilesh Yadav’s administration,under which lumpen elements are already beginning to flex their muscles,and the opposition space in UP will be occupied by the BSP and the BJP.

As a weak UPA government lurches from crisis to crisis,it is in no position to push through much-needed reform measures and unpalatable decisions. Pranab Mukherjee’s budget is a good example. The UPA is a lame-duck administration hobbled by lack of decisive leadership and hounded by obstreperous allies. The leadership vacuum is reflected in Harish Rawat’s rebellion in Uttarakhand. Even a year ago it would have been unthinkable for any Congressperson to defy the high command and still survive.

Ironically,despite the hiccups and contradictions,UPA 2 may yet survive for a while longer. This is because it is not just the Congress which is shying away from a mid-term poll; there are several other political parties keen to avoid a general election at this stage. Take the Left parties,for instance. They were wiped out in Bengal in the 2011 assembly polls and they are aware that Banerjee has a clear advantage at present. But they also know that voter disillusionment with the temperamental TMC chief is growing fast. The communists clearly have much to gain if they play a waiting game. The Left,while it makes all the noises of an opposition party,might well rationalise why it cannot vote against the government when it comes to the crunch. Probably,it will trot out the old excuse that it cannot be seen to be on the same side as the BJP.

It is not as if the BJP is keen on an immediate poll,since it is conscious that it needs to first set its own house in order. In Karnataka,B.S. Yeddyurappa has started arm-twisting the central leadership yet again. At the national level,the leadership question has not been sorted out. Party president Nitin Gadkari claims this is an issue for a time after the polls,but a party without a leader to project is at a major disadvantage,as the UP polls indicated. The sharp differences within the party high command this week on the question of nominations for Rajya Sabha seats show the lack of cohesiveness within the party.

The BSP,after its very recent UP defeat,is obviously not keen on an early election. Mayawati knows she needs time and space to marshal her forces again and work out her caste equations. Significantly,the BSP on Monday came to the assistance of the government by staging a walk-out in Lok Sabha during the vote for an amendment to the presidential address. On Tuesday,the BSP went one step further in supporting the government,along with the SP, by voting to defeat the amendments to the motion of thanks in Rajya Sabha. The BSP’s Satish Chandra Mishra explained that the BSP was not there to destabilise the government and was willing to accept the prime minister’s assurance that it would be consulted on the NCTC.

The DMK is similarly opposed to an early election. The once belligerent DMK is conscious that in its changed circumstances it has no option but to cling to the Congress’s coat-tails,what with a vengeful Jayalalithaa baying for its blood in the state. The government need not take too seriously the DMK’s occasional threat of pulling out. In fact,on Tuesday,the DMK actually came to the rescue of the government and did not support the AIADMK’s call for a division in Parliament on the UN resolution. The DMK said it was satisfied with the prime minister’s assurance in the House that the government was inclined to vote in favour of the UN resolution. Tuesday’s voting pattern in Rajya Sabha was,in fact,a telling indication that,by sheer default,UPA 2 may yet muddle through for the rest of its term.

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