Course correction and Pawar play

Having said that his daughter, Supriya Sule, will take over the NCP, it seems Sharad Pawar, even in retirement, is playing a bigger role at the Centre

Pranab Mukherjee has won in the presidential race by a mile, so will Hamid Ansari when the election for the post of the vice-president is held next month. It was good to see West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee extend her support, even if somewhat grudgingly.

As I have said earlier, political logic indicates that the best option for both the Congress and the Trinamul Congress is to stay together. We have no clue to the future, as the Janata Dal (United) did a U-turn and decided to support Mr Hamid Ansari’s candidature after indicating their support for the NDA’s candidate.
The country is in election mode already and I think both the Congress and the BJP should now concentrate on the battle ahead in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. Though we have 18 months to go for the general elections, we have seen what can happen within a week.
The interim period will be marked by changes both within the Congress and the BJP. Every state, big and small, is going through a political churning in preparing for the future. In my last column I dwelt on the situation in West Bengal and the relations between the Trinamul COngress and the Congress — I strongly believe that it makes political sense for both parties to keep the alliance intact, as both will gain from this. We also saw a positive move in Andhra Pradesh where the jailed YSR Congress leader Jaganmohan Reddy opted to vote for the Congress nominee for President. Tamil Nadu may also see a new alliance pattern, going by the record of the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) over the last three decades.
A coalition crisis is brewing in Maharashtra, which has been on a slow boil for quite some time. But there is no reason for the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party, which together hold 26 of the 48 Lok Sabha seats from the state, to lock horns.
The Congress is having a difficult time dealing with multiple land scams in the state while NCP chief Sharad Pawar is busy shifting gears. Having already announced that his daughter, Supriya Sule, will take over the organisation, with nephew Ajit Pawar slated to be the boss in Maharashtra, it seems that Mr Pawar himself, even in retirement, is playing a bigger role at the Centre. It’s quite a fluid situation in Maharashtra, and it’s more than likely that the Shiv Sena will close ranks with the BJP and try to put up a tough fight after their success in the recent municipal polls. We are, in electoral terms, talking of Maharashtra’s 48 Lok Sabha seats, second-largest chunk after Uttar Pradesh. The seats are evenly poised between the Congress and the NCP on the one hand and the BJP and the Shiv Sena on the other.
Political ground reality determines events and outcomes. Will the Congress-Trinamul Congress take the right decision in Bengal and will the NCP/Congress take the right decision in Maharashtra? No one except Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Sharad Pawar know what will happen. While poor coordination within the UPA-2 is an issue with all the allies, including NCP, what happens in Maharashtra has a lot to do with the equation between Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, a Congressman, and deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar of the NCP as well as the distribution of portfolios and funds allocation to important ministries, but it makes no sense for the NCP and the Congress to break ties for any of these reasons.
Sometimes small things matter a great deal. It was absurd to see Mr Pawar pulling a chair to be seated to the right of the Prime Minister at a Cabinet meeting after the slot, known as the No. 2 seat, fell vacant following Mr Mukherjee’s resignation from the Union Cabinet.
It is the job of the Union minister of parliamentary affairs to see that proper protocol is maintained at all times and an apology is due to the NCP leader.
The Congress, in my opinion, has gained in the election of the President. Its smooth conduct of the selection process contrasted with the BJP stumbling on the choice of P.A. Sangma though they later recovered somewhat by coming up with Jaswant Singh’s candidature for the post of vice-president. But I am disappointed with the flip-flop of some of the regional parties. Is this the way they will react in the future?

At the Centre the Congress and the BJP are both bracing up for 2014, and it’s no surprise that Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi has taken a step forward. As I have said before, in 2014 the Congress will be led by Mr Gandhi and the BJP by Narendra Modi. Both sides have to prepare for the eventualities of coalition politics that are bound to follow a fractured mandate.
The UPA-2 is going through mid-term course correction and the same issue will plague many regional parties in the future. The important thing is to identify issues and take prompt action. Leaders, big and small, do not admit their mistakes on TV chat shows but they must have a mechanism whereby errors can be identified and corrective action taken.
In a coalition set-up the map for the future should be clear to those who lead their parties in electoral battles. Majority governance and the day of the supreme leader no longer exists, but leaders and leadership are still vital both at the Centre and in states.

The writer is a former Union minister

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