Collateral damage

We had a happy Diwali overall with the festive season lit up with a 5-0 win against England in the ODI series. I must say it was a one-sided series and offered very little to the spectator — it was sad to see Eden Gardens empty. This

being the festive season, most people spent time with family and friends. Now F1 fever promises to give the game of cricket some competition for public attention and advertising revenue, which is a good sign for the future.
Charges have been framed in cases related to the 2G scam, which enters the trial phase from November 11, 2011. Day-to-day trials of these cases it will easily take three to five years. They will travel to the high court and the Supreme Court but there will be no fatigue factor in these cases and every move of the CBI and the UPA-2 will be watched very closely as political pressure from the DMK builds.
The drama surrounding the 2G scam is far from over as the chargesheets against Dayanidhi Maran and his brother and other members are yet to be filed. There are far too many skeletons in the DMK first family cupboard, and this has been reflected in the Assembly elections, and repeated in the municipal contest where the DMK was decimated along with others while the AIADMK swept the polls.
Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa has appeared in the special trial court in Bangalore in a disproportionate assets case that is over a decade old, but this has had little effect on the Tamil Nadu electorate as political battles are best decided in the political arena. Meanwhile, several DMK ministers and public servants have been raided over real estate deals done during the DMK regime. The DMK family business assets prevent a convincing political response.
The Congress and the UPA-2 government have suffered collateral damage and many political VIPs will struggle to win their seats in the Lok Sabha from Tamil Nadu. The Congress has not been able to deal with the AIADMK supremo on equal terms. Regional leaders like Mamata Banerjee, Jayalalithaa, Nitish Kumar, Naveen Patnaik and many others who win elections on their own ability and charisma do not submit to any authority. Coalition politics has given regional leaders additional political space for future alliances.
The Assembly elections are a few months away. Punjab, Manipur, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Gujarat and Goa will go to polls in 2012. Punjab, with 117 seats, is going to be a very close fight but I see the Congress ahead with 60-65 seats and the Akali-BJP alliance in hot pursuit with 50-55 seats. While the Congress campaign will be spearheaded by Amarinder Singh, the father-son duo will lead the Akali Dal. The Congress has multiple factions; if confusion persists the cost can be heavy for the party. While ticket distribution should be fair, identifying a leader early in the campaign is crucial for public perception because in coalition politics you cannot deploy the tactics used in majority governments in the past.
Uttar Pradesh will witness a ferocious battle between the BSP, the Congress, the Samajwadi Party and the BJP and we may witness an equally tough fight in Punjab and Uttarakhand. I see the BSP ahead in Uttar Pradesh with the Congress in hot pursuit, followed by the SP, and the BJP a distant fourth. We may be looking for a likely coalition unless, like the last occasion, the people of Uttar Pradesh have a surprise for all of us. In Uttarakhand the Congress may have an easier time as the BJP’s image has suffered badly due to corruption, but a more detailed view is necessary. It would be interesting to see whether Baba Ramdev tests the electoral waters in the state with his own political party or assists the BJP.

As the Winter Session approaches and we shift attention to the Lokpal Bill we will witness many alliances between big and small parties as votes get fragmented. Even Assembly elections in Manipur, where a blockade continues, and in Goa, where a mining scam waits to unfold, will attract attention. Along with all this we may have the Anna topi visible in some areas and no one is quite certain in which direction it will tilt.
Team Anna members wound each other and harm their cause. They seem to take public opinion for granted as they take sanctuary in the Jan Lokpal Bill to cover their indiscretions. I am disappointed at the observations made by Anna Hazare and the language used in his official blog. The Congress is fully justified in defending its political turf but a more reserved response is best in the situation. The Parliament and political parties, good or bad, cannot be subjected to blackmail. It is time we got on with governance.

The controversy in Jammu and Kashmir was avoidable. Thankfully, chief minister Omar Abdullah has decided to put on hold for now the revocation of the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) from parts of the state. AFSPA is not a simple issue in J&K or in the Northeast. There are compelling arguments on both sides for I have some experience of this. Decisions in such matters are always taken at the level of the CCPA. There is a political battle on the ground between the National Conference and the PDP and, despite the game of numbers and coalition compulsions, national security issues will always prevail, and the final authority on this has to rest with the Centre.
The situation in West Asia is fluid. Absorbed in our own issues, we may not have realised the turn of events in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Syria. In Libya we just saw an end to the civil war and thousands of casualties as Muammar Gaddafi, after four decades of absolute rule moved, from his palace into a sewer pipe to be executed by his own people and many of his sons perishing along with him. Another despot bit the dust! We have a volatile situation in Iraq. The US is taking a hard line on Pakistan, which is a very welcome step. But we have to be very careful of the short-term implications of this shift for our border states.

The writer is a former Union minister

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