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Updated: September 27, 2012 00:41 IST

If you can’t beat this government …

Vidya Subrahmaniam
Comment (22)   ·   print   ·   T  T  
The Hindu

Mamata Banerjee’s revolt ought to have been an adrenaline-rush moment for the Opposition. Instead, it seems to be ensuring the government’s survival

The common-sense view of politics is that it is farcical. Sometimes absurdly so, as was seen last week. The rush of fast-paced, oversized images that television relentlessly beamed as Mamata Banerjee walked out of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA)-II suggested an overwhelming, shattering climax that just did not happen.

Ms Banerjee’s surprise revolt over the new economic announcements — foreign direct investment (FDI) in multibrand retail, diesel price hike and the cap on supply of LPG cylinders — was potentially catastrophic for the Manmohan Singh government. Yet a week after the West Bengal Chief Minister reduced the ruling alliance to a numerical minority, it is the latter that is defiantly triumphant. Team Manmohan hasn’t keeled over in fright. It has drawn itself up to its full height, hero-like swagger and all, while the Opposition appears at sixes and sevens.

To be sure, there have been several mock mutinies. The Left and the Samajwadi Party (SP) called a bandh against the economic initiatives, which affected normal life in some parts. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) too bestirred itself to speak against the reforms. Nitin Gadkari and Sitaram Yechury held hands while Mulayam Singh hit the streets with the party’s followers. The SP chief fairly bristled: he called the Congress anti-poor, swore to fight it till eternity, spoke of a Third Front, hinted at running for Prime Minister and occupied a tantalising cliffhanger on supporting a Mamata-sponsored future parliamentary resolution against FDI in retail. But the postscript was predictable: he would back the government in order to safeguard the nation from “communal forces.”

Now consider this twist. The SP may have heroically rescued the government from the BJP but the BJP itself looks nowhere near wanting to unseat Manmohan & Co. A day before Trinamool Congress-UPA relations irretrievably broke down, Mr. Gadkari was at a press conference where his only concern seemed to be the safety of the government. The BJP chief’s answer to every question was that his party would do nothing to destabilise the government. “No, we will not move a no-confidence motion. It is not our job to topple the government,” and so forth. The painful protestations forced some in the nonplussed audience to shout back: “Of course, toppling is your job!” How did the BJP, with a consistent track record of unruly behaviour, come suddenly to affect such saintly qualities? This was the party that had boisterously shut down Parliament over Coalgate and vowed not to rest until it had secured the Prime Minister’s resignation for his role in “the biggest scam in Independent India.” What would happen to the BJP’s plans to storm the country with its “village to metro” anti-Coalgate protests if Mr. Gadkari was simultaneously going to be at the service of the government?

Left’s presence

No one can dispute the Left parties’ genuine opposition to economic reforms, and undoubtedly theirs was the most legitimate presence at the bandh. It is their core philosophy, their bread and butter. Even so, the Left parties are clearly wary of taking their protest to the next level which can logically only be the ouster of the government. The dilemma was evident in the way the CPI(M)’s Prakash Karat framed his opposition. He said the government would lose its right to continue if it didn’t roll back the new measures. Surely, the government, however unforgivable its failings, will not itself exit to oblige the Opposition.

The Indian Opposition situation recalls the Republican Party’s frustrations vis-à-vis President Barack Obama. Venting her anger at Presidential nominee Mitt Romney, conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham said recently: “If you can’t beat Barack Obama with this record, then shut down the party. Shut it down.”

There cannot be two views on the record of the UPA-II regime. Indeed, there comes a moment in every government’s life when nothing it does can redeem it in the popular imagination. Rajiv Gandhi’s government lost its innocence after the Bofors allegations. The fate of the Narasimha Rao ministry was sealed after the Babri Masjid breathed its last and the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government could never live down the 2002 Gujarat anti-Muslim pogrom.

Manmohan Singh’s second term had reached that critical point with 18 months still left for the general election. After 2G, the Commonwealth Games and Coalgate, the stoutest defence could not save the government from being seen as corrupt, inefficient and unconscionably indifferent to the plight of the aam aadmi in whose name the Congress and its allies had won two consecutive elections. It didn’t matter whether the government’s guilt was actually established in these scams. It didn’t matter that the best and brightest Ministers furiously disputed the zeros added to the loot figure. It didn’t matter because, as one senior Minister unhappily admitted, the government had lost the perception game.

From 2010 to 2012

Worse, the government had lost its grip on the economy and the once blameless Prime Minister was under critical domestic and international scrutiny. In the worst of times, Dr. Singh had two fallbacks. The Indian economy, which seemed miraculously insulated from global recessionary trends. And his own glowing image. As a former media adviser to Dr. Singh once said, he was “the most honest PM leading the most dishonest government.” In 2010, the British daily, The Independent, described Dr. Singh as “one of the world’s most revered leaders,” one who had “transformed a nation of 1.2 billion people.” The same year, Newsweek adjudged him leader of leaders, “the leader other leaders love,” and Forbes paid the highest possible tribute, saying he had been “universally praised as India’s best PM since Nehru.”

Cut to mid-2012. The Indian press was asking probing questions about the helmsman’s personal honesty while the foreign media seemed to have given him up as a lost cause. It was against this background that the government, in an almost last-ditch effort, unleashed an audacious package of reforms aimed at national and international investors. Obviously the non-UPA parties were going to see this as an affront. Yet they were helpless in the face of the UPA numbers. So when the Trinamool Congress, a ruling ally, struck the first blow, they were provided the perfect setting for some collective non-UPA action. This was their adrenaline-rush moment: The government that could do no right was on the verge of collapse and the decision whether it stayed or went was in their hands. But the moment passed with critical players yo-yoing over what to do next.

So why did the SP not go the whole hog? Why is the BJP being uncharacteristically coy? After all, these are two parties that at least theoretically stand to benefit from the government’s exit and early elections. Mulayam Singh’s problem is twofold. He can only act if he is sure of being able to control the fallout of his action. If he withdrew support, and the government managed to survive, he would be worse off than before, possibly losing the Central assistance required to shore up the cash-strapped Akhilesh Yadav government. Today’s reality is that political parties need resources to fight elections which can only come from mega projects. Second, the SP chief’s aim is to lead the Third Front whose barest outlines are not visible at the moment.

A better strategy for him is to keep the government in a frustrating state of tension, extract all the concessions he can, and bide for the right time. This explains his deliberately provocative back and forth statements.

The BJP may alternate between aggression and sobriety but the simple truth is that it has no leverage as long as the SP and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) support the government. Even should the SP pull the plug, the political resistance to early elections will likely keep the government afloat. For every party that wants a midterm poll, there is another that lives in fear of that prospect. The longer the BSP and the Left wait, the better their chances of retrieving lost ground.

The BJP itself is miles from being battle ready. In a recent midterm opinion poll done by NDTV, the BJP emerged with 143 Lok Sabha seats to the Congress’s 127. Parties outside the UPA and National Democratic Alliance notched up 151 seats. Even in a down-and-out state, the Congress would seem to be not far behind the BJP whose other major problem is its inability to attract allies, many of whom have their Muslim constituencies to worry about. The party also has to choose its prime ministerial candidate from among multiple claimants. Narendra Modi’s victory in Gujarat can only complicate matters.

At its forthcoming national executive meet, the BJP will make all the right noises. But can it go any further?

vidya.s@thehindu.co.in

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More In: Lead | Opinion

Good analysis-succinctly summed up.

from:  ARVIND KUMAR
Posted on: Sep 27, 2012 at 05:43 IST

The author must be a fanboy of Congress, as noted in one of the comments. When Congress has allowed it's partners to steal and loot, why will the partners leave it. Mamata was not a partner in crime, so didn't have that moral sense of belonging to congress. DMK & NCP will be forever loyal to congress, for the loot they had.

from:  Senthil
Posted on: Sep 27, 2012 at 01:37 IST

Withdrawal of support by Ms. Mamata Banerjee From UPAII Govt. is
shocking & surprising.TMC joined the govt. after accepting all
programs of the Congress party, declared during the election.
Moreover, TMC is in the Central govt. since Mr. Rajiv Ganghi's time
when they announced about economic reform.Ms. Mamata Bannerjee knew it
since then & supported all along. We considered her as a bold person
who believes in new economy policy & thought she would follow the same
path to take Bengal to a better tomorrow.But her present decision has
shocked,disappointed majority of people including the poorer section
of Bengal.If she has done it to beat Left Parties then she has failed
to read the mood of the people. Now we understand the problem of
supporting a "One person(nal) party". So far BJP is concerned We
consider this party to be a party of jokers. They did well during
their tenure with the same policies & now they say something else to
befool the people.Dr.Singh will take us to 'Sunhare Kal'

from:  Swapan Kumar Nag
Posted on: Sep 26, 2012 at 22:55 IST

The Article vividly portrays the confused state of the political situation prevailing in the country. In a situation where opportunism and not valued-based politics is the prime motive behind the formation of Goverment as is the case with the UPA-II they will continue to remain in power for the full-term making a mess of the country's economy. In this context it will be suicidal if any opposition party ventures to dislodge the Government at present and the UPA fully aware of this will go headlong towards introducing further measures to enrich their own coffers at the expense of the common man whom they proclaim to 'serve'.

from:  TSSREENIVASAN
Posted on: Sep 26, 2012 at 20:19 IST

As long as the Congress is riding high on the electronic communication waves in
India supported on the ground by a large section of the print media this government
cannot be beaten, Ms.Vidya Subramaniam.

from:  K. Vijayakumar
Posted on: Sep 26, 2012 at 20:17 IST

it was worth reading and all the points were judiciously and impartially
brought up.deep thinking involved.hope to see many more good articles
from the author.

from:  avanish
Posted on: Sep 26, 2012 at 20:03 IST

Humm! There is nothing left much which could find an elbow place in this beautifully articulated article! Yet the goal posts remain intact: They are likely to stay there till 2014 or any time before if the prresent Alliance chooses so. Agreed that the present Ruling Clique also have not performed well enough during its second innings; the shreded opposition having remained unsuccessful to dethrone it since it was using push-pulling Mantra in different directions; resulting into ineffective resultant force! Leadership matters a lot! The scenario as of now is all poor in taste

from:  avtar chauhan
Posted on: Sep 26, 2012 at 19:50 IST

The article is perfectly compiled, with utmost attention paid to all aspects of the current scenario.
Especially, the part where nothing happened even when Mamta Banerjee unexpectedly pulled the plug on the UPA government. The BJP should have pounced upon this opportunity as a hungry tiger would on a sitting prey.
But none of that has happened. Seems that the near dormant condition of the BJP and their lack of providing a Prime Ministrial candidate combined with the selfish acts of the SP and BSP will only render Mamta's act useless.

from:  Rahul Dalal
Posted on: Sep 26, 2012 at 17:25 IST

It is no surprise that our PM Mr. Man Mohan Singh finds himself at the receiving end of the stick. First there are compulsions of coalition politics. Second is current scenario. It is a tragedy of our democracy that honest and educated individuals with no personal greed cannot succeed. Today’s politics is for the people (many of whom are very poor and believe that a politician must come to their rescue in their fight for survival), by the people (who do not possess any leadership qualities but are good crowd pullers) and of the people (who honestly believe that they are the only ones who are fit to win elections, often by using questionable and unethical means and unaccounted money). Even for BJP (if NDA comes to power after next elections) it will be extremely difficult to manage coalition politics. Let us not be fooled by false expectations. Neither Mr. Narendra Modi nor any one else would be successful in the messy politics of regional parties.

from:  Narendra M Apte
Posted on: Sep 26, 2012 at 17:24 IST

Neat analysis of the current economic and political scenario. The major
hindrance as most would understand is the lack of a prime ministerial
figure in the opposition ( third front does not exist and Mulayam Singh
can forget the dream of being the PM of India). If the opposition is not
able to keep aside personal differences and come up with a strong prime
ministerial candidate, it is bound to face defeat in the coming
elections, no matter when they happen.

from:  Rahul Gupta
Posted on: Sep 26, 2012 at 17:17 IST

Best analysis of the surrent political situation in the recent times...

from:  Javed
Posted on: Sep 26, 2012 at 15:26 IST

You seem to be a sycophant of Congress. First of all, Can you tell me what do you mean "reform". Reform is something that will reform someone's life. Life of the common man. How is hiking diesel price or reducung LPG a reform. First siphon off money and give away coal blocks and spectrum, and was this money growing on trees. If you look at every thing that has happened in the last 3 years in this country (at the center), the Constitutional bodies were abused. How CBI was misused. The corruption is monumental. How all congress/UPA leaders are insulated from corruption like Shiela Dixit, Kalmadi, Dayanidhi maran, Raja co, Jayaswals, Vijay Darda...20,000 cr irrigation scam in maharashtra. How much has Hindu ever covered about all these scams? Where as I find thesis about Yeddy and Modi. (when ever and where ever).
This PM has been nothing but shame to the nation.

from:  krishna
Posted on: Sep 26, 2012 at 14:02 IST

Ms. Subrahmanian, its just a lull before the storm.

from:  Abhishek Devurkar
Posted on: Sep 26, 2012 at 12:05 IST

Brilliant to the point analyses of the situation.

from:  Ankit
Posted on: Sep 26, 2012 at 11:58 IST

Majority of Indian voters actually lead a pitiable existence. Their constant worry is from where their next meal comes. Their children go to bed hungry. Their women have to trudge miles to get a pitcher of water. They are deprived of hygienic living conditions. For them all talk of 2G, Coalgate,Commonwealth Games or India against Corruption do not mean anything. Whether FDA is allowed or not also do not matter to them. In the whole of India I do not think there is a single retail trader who is not a BJP supporter except those belonging to minority communities. So I am at a loss to understand whose cause the left is expousing by opposing FDI in retail. Dalit leaders welcome FDA as mega malls are caste blind in their view which is true also to some extent.The author states that Manmohan was the most honoured PM till 2010.Between 2010 and 2012 Vinod Rai happened.He is the future Chaturvedi.I am sure even 10 years of non-Congress rule will fail to establish anything in all these so called scams.In an article published in the re-launched Frontline A.G.Noorani stated that Sawarkar many times apologized to the British and assured them his co-operation.Balasaheb Deoras regretted Sangh’s opposition to emergency and assured their cooperation to 20 point programme.No wonder Gadkari is going to be at Government&s service as BJP is part of the same legacy.

from:  Baikadi Suryanarayana Rao
Posted on: Sep 26, 2012 at 11:54 IST

A pretty good article. However, I think one point was missed. Could the BJP's complaisance be attributed to their own ideological support of the US and the FDI measures. Also, a note of dissent -- calling FDI and other measures reform is misleading. It is change, for sure, but is it for the better of society and the majority?

from:  Sam R
Posted on: Sep 26, 2012 at 10:47 IST

That was a supremely fact-based analysis. I appreciate the way the author recounted the past and equated it to the present to arriving at the conclusions.

from:  Arunkumar Rajavel
Posted on: Sep 26, 2012 at 08:45 IST

A neat analysis of prevailing political climate in the country.Howsoever discredited may be the Congress led UPA-2, no major party is dare enough to go to people at this juncture.A lesson to be earnt in having coalition governments procrastinating to regional satraps would surely result in corruption of all sorts since each partner in the dispensation wants a price for its support.Unless a strong willed party leads a coalition and does not succumb to intimidation tactics we cannot expect a performing government without blame.We should also note that no one can go on pleasing an ally like Trinamul blocking all economic projects under one pretext or the other.Unless resources are available for infrastructure investment Indian economy can never stand up.We have no wherewithal to mobilise them internally and only a free economy would help to attract massive external investment despite its deficiencies.What the Chinese have done and achieved after coming out of Communism is worth noting.

from:  G.Kulandaivelu
Posted on: Sep 26, 2012 at 08:08 IST

One of the best political analyses. The picture is so clear now. No party is strong enough to gain the support, there is also a leadership crisis in the two major parties: BJP and INC. There is no all-India leader for the BJP, Modi will not get the support. In the Congress, Rahul Gandhi is there, but his presence in whichever state has led to the loss of his party. So I am not sure about R.Gandhi. I do not see the revival of the Third Front, as it will lead to a complete loss of funds to the UP governmnt, which Akhilesh Yadav needs.

from:  Aiman Reyaz
Posted on: Sep 26, 2012 at 07:30 IST

Probably for the first time Mamta has made a fool of herself.

from:  S. Vatsya
Posted on: Sep 26, 2012 at 06:55 IST

A well written article on the balance of power between various political combinations. One cannot help feeling the people may end up deciding in favor of congress as the saving grace amongst the motley group of parties vying with each other to occupy centre stage. The new incumbent would take its own time to settle down and would also be prone to fill up the empty stomaches whereas the existing occupant for all the failings has already tasted blood for a decade and also has a fair progress report to show to the nation. Above all the minorities are likely to feel safe in a dispensation with congress at the helm. The chorus on corruption is also a reflection of growing aspiration of the people of the country. The aam aadmi too has improved his lot over the years which cannot be denied even by the virulent critics of the UPA II. It is also possible that the next exercise at the hustings may vote for congress overwhelmingy at the centre to remove road blocks laid by coalition partners.

from:  R.Vijaykumar
Posted on: Sep 26, 2012 at 06:34 IST

All valid comments Vidya, but it may well be that political parties are slowly realizing that a) India will continue to grow through the sheer consumption of its people and b) none of the options for a non- UPA 2 Government are likely to change matters. This is exactly the reason that the UPA Government has received a huge endorsement for its economic initiatives from the people and Industry. Despite all the bravado, none of the Opposition parties was able to make a real impact with the Bandh called last week. Indians wish to move forward and none of the parties are offering anything better than the UPA 2 Government

from:  gita
Posted on: Sep 26, 2012 at 02:42 IST
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