The official line in the Congress is that the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government will complete its term, completing a decade in office next year. But unofficially, Congressmen are beginning to say that the impact of the events of the last few days — the DMK’s exit from the government on the Sri Lankan Tamils’ issue, the Samajwadi Party’s spat with the Congress over Union Steel Minister Beni Prasad Verma’s impolitic comment on its leader, Mulayam Singh, and the CBI raids on Thursday morning at the residence of the DMK’s heir apparent M.K. Stalin — may just compel the government to consider holding the next general elections at the end of 2013, rather than in April-May 2014.
If the parting of ways with the DMK, and the tiff with the SP — now temporarily resolved — make the Congress look shaky, even though it still has the numbers to keep the UPA afloat, it is Thursday’s CBI raid and the response of the government to it that have exposed it to derision. On the face of it, the timing of the raids on Mr. Stalin’s many properties — however justified they may be — two days after his party quit the Central government would suggest vendetta by the government.
But statements emanating from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Cabinet colleagues suggest otherwise. If the Prime Minister said he was “upset at these events,” stressed that “the government had no role in this” and labelled the timing of the raid as the “most unfortunate,” Finance Minister P. Chidambaram expressed his disapproval of the searches, while Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal’s comment was: “somebody has played mischief.”
Later, however, Congress spokesperson Sandeep Dikshit, asked to respond to the BJP’s accusation that the raid was a warning to the SP, gave a different spin: “At a time when Congress needs its allies, would we do something of this sort? It is clear that the CBI is an independent organisation and works according to its rules.” But either way — vendetta or a government functioning in the dark — the picture it painted was of a government, confused and without authority.
Sri Lankan Tamil issue
Meanwhile, the DMK’s withdrawal of support is being read in political circles not merely as a product of domestic compulsions — that it cannot be seen to be on the wrong side of the Sri Lankan Tamil question at a time when it has become an emotive issue in Tamil Nadu — but that the southern party also sees the Congress as a loser. A senior DMK MP told The Hindu that his party had been considering leaving the UPA for the last three months, and not just on the Sri Lankan Tamil issue. It was becoming difficult, he said, in Tamil Nadu to even protest about a raise in bus fares without the ruling AIADMK hitting back at the DMK for being part of a government that had increased fuel prices. But, clearly, the DMK needed a far more emotive issue — that of the Sri Lankan Tamils, one that it could use politically — to regain ground in Tamil Nadu.
Finally, even though the SP appears to have taken back its threat of withdrawing its support — from outside — to the government, sources in that party told The Hindu that they were just biding their time to pull the plug, and that it could be as early as the second half of the budget session — April 22 to May 10. With the SP under stress in Uttar Pradesh, thanks to a deteriorating law and order situation, there is a sense that it would prefer the general elections sooner rather than later. It, however, does not wish to withdraw support till it is sure that it can pull down the government. It is therefore, looking for an issue that will help it politically — like the Sri Lankan Tamil question for the DMK. Congress sources told The Hindu that it could well be something like a demand for reservation for Muslims.
Those in government may be keen to complete UPA 2’s full term, but within the party there is a growing feeling that it is better to cut its losses and call for elections at the end of this year, along with State polls in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi and Chhattisgarh. The results of the Karnataka Assembly elections in which the Congress hopes to fare well will be out on May 9. That might be a good time for the party to take a call.