Question about next PM just got lot more interesting

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Of all the bizarre messages that were doing the rounds on the day our angry Bengal tigress formally withdrew support to the Manmohan Singh government, the weirdest was the one about the only reason that the BJP, ‘topple ready, topple shy’ was not going to push for a no–confidence motion against the UPA. Because they didn’t — wait for it — trust B.S. Yeddyurappa’s men in parliament to keep the faith and vote with the party.

That may be a version of the truth. I’m sure it’s more than that. And of the 18 odd MPs from Karnataka in parliament, barely ten may owe him unalloyed allegiance. But it does reflect some of the unease within the top echelons of the saffronists over the man they have systematically sought to cut down to size. Except, he keeps coming back!

They’ve now shoved two of his stalwart lieutenants unceremoniously off centre-stage. Ayanur Manjunath, who trashed the transport minister Ashok for his ‘poor’ handling of the KSRTC-BMTC bus strike, is no longer the official spokesperson of the party in the state. Nor is BSY’s close friend and adviser Dhananjay Kumar, authorized to speak on behalf of the party at the centre no longer. (What did he say or do exactly?) Fact is, the BJP top brass have chosen to knock the proxies out rather than precipitate a crisis by penalizing the real master’s voice — BSY, spider in the web.

Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar, whom BSY in mentor-mode, says is the only reason that he is staying on in the party, and some say, has stopped him from formally launching his own Karnataka Janata Party on October 2, may have well played the silent assassin. At whose behest? His real mentor, Ananth Kumar?

How a betrayal from a fellow Lingayat will translate electorally is for BSY to gauge. Whether it is a precursor for a future tie-up between a BJP that goes into assembly elections, weighed down by anti-incumbency and reduced to half of what it was, and willing to go back to doing business with the JD(S) is one scenario being talked about. Minus BSY, naturally. Wasn’t it Ananth Kumar, after all, who brokered the original deal with the JD(S) for a JD(S)-BJP coalition government? With BSY out of the way, he could do it again.

Clearly, just as the pawns are being moved, piece by piece, bit by bit, on the political chessboard of the country, positioned in preparation for the crunch that is to come, so too here in the state, where the stakes are equally high, if not higher.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has 18 months to regain his international reputation as the ‘Superman-mohan’ who can pull his country back from the economic brink as he did in 1991. 18 months before the door closes on the room he has been given to work his magic. If he has that long…

For Yeddyurappa, it’s an even smaller window. By December, he is hoping that Narendra Modi will win Gujarat and gain the upper hand in the party. Enough to edge L.K. Advani — and the patriarch’s protégé Ananth Kumar — out as decision makers, so that he gets the free hand that he needs to reclaim the BJP — or the KJP as it maybe — in the state.

Of the ten MPs who do owe Yeddyurappa a debt of gratitude, not many are hardcore BJP and have come in from the Congress and the JD(S), drawn by the prospect of the BJP in power. Many have admitted sotto voce that they have been approached by powerful Congress leaders and are all ready to switch back to the mother party. No guarantees of friendship in an election year. Particularly for the Congress, scientifically deconstructing the electoral DNA of the state, and who want no truck with the JD(S) whom they see as unreliable partners, or the BSY faction, weighed down by too much baggage.

Where does that leave the ‘saddened” BSY? A handful of MPs in parliament will stay with him, and perhaps another 20 to 30 legislators whom he can count on in the state to face the polls with him. With anti-incumbency almost certain to sink the BJP, there’s one story doing the rounds that the secret meeting between the Janata Party’s Subramaniam Swamy and BSY was to explore where the Lingayat strongman would stand if a Third Front was being hammered together.

Mulayam, the wily, actually said it. Nobody wants to gift the BJP a government at the centre. And come 2014, the Yadav leader whose Muslim vote base in UP has delivered over and over, will need all the non-Congress, non-BJP friends he can get.

And that’s where our Mamata, more Left than the Left, and who occupies the political space for both government and opposition in her state, has me confused. Brave or foolhardy, history will be the judge. But in the here and now, she’s turned her back on the centre, because she realized that with no central assistance forthcoming, there was simply nothing to gain, by staying on with a central government that had an anti-poor tag. That’s Mamata’s vote-bank politics in play. It will help her tie up the local body elections and with that, the state machinery. It could have a knock-on effect in the neighbouring states, where she dislodges not just the mortal enemy, the Left, but also the Congress to become the queen of the east.

Mulayam’s Third Front will then have a very weak link in the Left, who have been pushed into admitting they don’t really trust him either!

Confused? It doesn’t get any clearer. But this much is clear to me. In the two long and wet months we spent in our grandparents home in Kerala every summer of our childhood, conversation almost always drowned by a clap of thunder and a gust of wind blowing out the oil lamps, one soaked in every word as our Lohiaite uncle argued into the night with the mild-mannered, soft spoken Congressman great uncle who had fought in the war and the hot-tempered young cousin who wore his Red credentials on his sleeve. There was simply no contest. The Lohiaite almost always won the day.

How could you disagree with the premise that the poor who worked knee deep in the lush green paddy fields, shimmied up the coconut palms, tended the cattle, rain or shine, deserved a better life, an education for their children, and pensions when physical labour was no longer possible?

Today, add the burgeoning middle class to that electoral equation and it’s the same story across a much wider spectrum. A roof over one’s head, power, water, schools, jobs and security in the sunset years, but without having to mortgage your life and limb to ‘the party’, any party and without losing your soul or your identity. Demands that haven’t changed over time.

The Socialist mantra lost out to the brutality of the Communists, and the tainted ‘me first’ Congressman in that neck of the woods. With Mulayam rising– even with his son Akhilesh’s government a huge disappointment — and a corporate Manmohan whose appeal to the aam admi had Mamata scoffing, the question of who will lead India — in 2013, 2014 — just got very interesting.

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