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In Disunited Progressive Alliance it is Party vs Govt

As the UPA walks into Parliament,it will look over its shoulders — wary of not just the Opposition but also the opposition within.

Written by D K Singh | New Delhi |
April 15, 2010 8:01:16 am

As the UPA walks into Parliament on Thursday,it will look over its shoulders — wary of not just the Opposition across the floor but also the opposition within. For,the unprecedented attack on Union Home Minister P Chidambaram by AICC general secretary Digvijay Singh today is just the latest in a series of very public — and often not-so public — face-offs between the Congress and the government and between Minister and Minister. All reinforcing the sense of a government increasingly adrift just a year into its term.

Consider the following:

* Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor,whose IPL-Sunanda Pushkar controversy has left many in the party and government squirming,has a consistent track record of embarrassing both.

He questioned the government’s austerity drive with his “cattle-class” and “holy-cow” quips in September 2009,criticised the Home Ministry’s visa policy for discouraging “tourism and goodwill” in December,called Jawaharlal Nehru’s foreign policy “a moralistic running commentary” last January and suggested Saudi Arabia as a “valuable interlocutor” between India and Pakistan on February 28. Boss S M Krishna had to step in to say that “policy matters should not be discussed publicly.” Sound advice that Tharoor has promptly twittered away.

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* The second loose-cannon MoS is Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh. He may not have Cabinet rank but is rushing to take on his seniors in the Council of Ministers. Road,Transport & Highways Minister Kamal Nath was at the receiving end on April 2 as Ramesh hit out at the NHAI over what he called its poor re-forestation record. This was in response to Nath’s letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh underlining how delayed environmental clearance is stalling projects.

* Ramesh took a swipe at HRD Minister Kapil Sibal by criticizing the foreign universities Bill at a dinner hosted by him for Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) members on March 17. He had reason to: just weeks earlier,Sibal,along with Science & Technology Minister Prithviraj Chavan,had snubbed Ramesh for his freeze on Bt brinjal saying that scientists should be trusted on science. An inter-ministerial with the PM later curbed Ramesh’s enthusiasm.

* Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee threatened to walk out of the Cabinet meeting on July 23 last year over the Land Acquisition Amendment Bill and shed tears at a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure on February 18 this year when Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee objected to including her 24 projects in the budget at such a late stage.

* On January 9,Banerjee alleged that the Centre was “providing oxygen” to the CPM by launching anti-Maoist operations by Central forces and state police in West Midnapore. “Union Home Minister P Chidambaram owes an explanation to the people for the failure of the joint operations,” she said. On April 5,emerging out of the all-party meeting on Women’s Reservation Bill,she openly joined the opponents of the Bill demanding a sub-quota for Muslims.

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* Last Saturday,Food Processing Industries Minister Subodhkant Sahay chose to highlight “socio-economic problems” that had to be addressed if Maoists had to be uprooted. And made it a point to underline how Bihar and Jharkhand Chief Ministers were absent from a meeting called by the Home Minister.

* The Congress and the NCP have been sparring publicly for long over Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar’s “responsibility” on price rise. The minister sought to turn the tables. “Any decision related to prices of commodities is a Cabinet decision,which includes the Prime Minister. It is a collective responsibility,” Pawar said on January 24 this year.

* On March 15,contrary to the government’s stance on the Women’s Reservation Bill,Pawar declared at a party function in Pune that reduction in the quota quantum via an amendment could not be ruled out. Last month,Satyavrat Chaturvedi was removed as Congress spokesman after being caught on camera using expletives against Pawar.

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* Union Fertiliser Minister M K Azhagiri,whose Ministry piloted the proposal for nutrient-based subsidy regime at the Cabinet meeting last February,kept opposing it in public.

* Last February,Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad questioned the Jammu & Kashmir government’s proposed policy of amnesty to militants who had crossed over to Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir. That he was out of sync with the Centre was evident when the Home Minister later said that the Centre was ready to “welcome” them.

* The ruling Congress,too,has been undermining the government by questioning many of its policies. Last July,for days,the party refused to endorse the Indo-Pak joint statement at Sharm el-Sheikh — over its reference to Balochistan — before Congress President Sonia Gandhi came out to back the Prime Minister.

* The very next month,Digvijay Singh demanded a probe into the Batla House encounter even while the government said that there was nothing to probe. On February 4 this year,during his visit to Azamgarh to meet the families of those arrested on terror charges,he raked up the issue again although he backtracked later. In Azamgarh,he questioned the authenticity of the cases.

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First published on: 15-04-2010 at 08:01:16 am

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