Biting the ballot

There is to be no reduction in petroleum prices until the election of the President... Why must this or any reform-oriented issue be delayed?

Though the Bharatiya Janata Party is still rallying around P.A. Sangma, the fact that NDA alliance partners, Janata Dal (United) and the Shiv Sena, along with the CPI(M), the Forward Bloc, the Biju Janata Dal and the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam are firm in their commitment to support Pranab Mukherjee as the President means that the veteran Congressman is set to move into Rashtrapati Bhavan soon.

No doubt West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee will abstain from voting for the presidency, I reckon Mr Mukherjee will get 60-65 per cent of the vote.
Everyone from the Congress to the BJP as well as the regional parties are trying to play to their political constituency in this presidential election. This is perhaps because many, like Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, are getting ready for Assembly elections in their states.
Mr Modi’s battle will be against the Congress when Gujarat goes to polls in December 2012. He is already working on his weak areas — Mr Modi has started giving special attention to the tribal areas which is considered Congress stronghold.
Mr Modi is a veteran in the game of politics and this was exhibited once again recently. After Sanjay Joshi — described by a TV channel as a “man who has never really held the top posts, but has known power from being an indispensable cog in the wheel” — resigned from the BJP, due to pressure from Mr Modi, posters supporting Mr Joshi and obliquely targeting Mr Modi appeared in Gujarat. Also, many supporters wore face masks of Mr Joshi during a protest in Rajkot. But these protests and anti-Modi posters only helped Mr Modi to consolidate his position as the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh came out openly in his support.
But Mr Modi is facing opposition from within NDA as Mr Kumar Nitish has taken an anti-Modi stance by saying that NDA’s nominee for the Prime Minister’s post should be somebody with “secular credentials”. Mr Kumar’s statement is an attempt to consolidate the minority base in Bihar. Mr Kumar’s support for the UPA’s presidential nominee is also an indication to the electorate in Bihar that he is his own master despite his party’s alliance with the BJP. The field is open for 2014 general elections and it seems the Congress is placed at 130-140 seats, the BJP at 110-120 seats and the regional parties 260-280 seats.
In practical terms, the UPA and the NDA no longer exist as cracks were seen during the selection of the presidential candidate. Even then, the Congress is better placed than the BJP.
Regional consolidation will take place in the coming months and no party — big or small — can be ignored. For example, could anyone have predicted the number of seats won by the YSR Congress, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi and the Telegu Desam Party in the Andhra Pradesh byelections?
I sense major changes in every state I look at. Many, in fact, show changed conditions that relate to new alliance structures. For example, in Andhra Pradesh, YSR Congress chief Jagan Mohan Reddy has many options and can juggle these for the future. Whereas, TDP chief N. Chandrababu Naidu looks jaded and even the TRS won their sole seat by a whisker.

Pranab Mukherjee resigned as the finance minister on June 26 and embarked on his journey to Raisina Hill. I have known Mr Mukherjee for quite some time and have seen him deal with both “peaks and troughs”. I did my bit in his return to the Congress Party in 1985-86 after many accused him of a conspiracy that never existed. Throughout his career, Mr Mukherjee has maintained dignity.
He accepted the post of West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee president after being a member of the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA). Many stories will eventually come out, but when we are living in difficult times, things happen which make little sense when judged by hindsight. The period 1980 to 1985 was very difficult because of the sad demise of Sanjay Gandhi after the Congress’ victory in 1979-80. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi rarely took a decision without it being cleared by the CCPA. The CCPA had R. Venkataraman (the defence minister who later became vice-president and then President), P.V. Narasimha Rao (external affairs minister, and later Prime Minister) and Mr Mukherjee (then a Congress member, now soon-to-be President).
After Mr Mukherjee’s nomination, the UPA-2 is in need of a new finance minister. I think it would be best if Prime Minister Manmohan Singh takes the charge. The 2008 crisis was managed well by the then economic team and it would be a mistake to think of a new approach to tame the present crisis in the financial sector. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, and C. Rangarajan, chairman of the Prime Minister’s economic advisory council, have done well but the finance minister must have seniority over other Cabinet ministers. Barring home minister P. Chidambaram, there is no one who has the authority required for the task.
If a Cabinet reshuffle is in the offing, then I do hope that some talented youngsters are given independent charge. Also, as the Congress gears up for Assembly elections in various states, some young leaders should be sent to the states and given positions of authority. Corrective surgery is never easy in any party when mid-term blues arrive. But at this stage some drastic measures are necessary as it they have political meaning, which will help the Congress in 2014.

It is sad to learn that there will be no reduction in petroleum prices until the election of the President (due on July 19). Since the crude oil price has declined by more than 30 per cent and the rupee by 12 per cent since April, the people are expecting a hefty drop in petrol prices. The question is, why must this decision or any other reform-oriented issue be delayed till the President’s election? When we have an economic crisis at hand, people expect the government to show courage and take drastic steps. How is the Congress going to restore people’s confidence if everything is subjected to electoral compulsions? Yet, the irony is that nothing works in a party’s favour in electoral terms when the basic trend is adverse.

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