Significant ‘Others’

The problem begins when political parties yield ground to external forces to settle scores, with everyone looking for magic cures in the economy

The UPA-2 is defending itself with a late burst of reforms initiatives. No doubt the results are positive, but the BJP in Opposition, with equal effort, will oppose these measures. The regional parties, to protect their turf, will do what suits them, depending on the issue.

I would take any measures adopted — be it the big-ticket reforms or pending issues of national importance being address-ed at such a late stage today — with a pinch of salt. Let’s not forget that we have already slipped into election mode.
Political battles are inbuilt in our system and there is no danger to the system from political confrontation. However, the problem begins when political parties yield ground to external forces to settle scores, with everyone looking for magic cures in the economy. We have a wide range of issues and let us see how the two national parties, the Congress and the BJP, are ranged against each other for 2014. These assessments are based on today’s equations and may not be valid in the coming weeks; we are by now all too familiar with the vagaries of coalition politics.
The Congress and the BJP won 320 seats between them in 2009 with the “others” at 220 seats. In 2014, this could well change, with the Congress and the BJP dropping to 280-290 seats and the “others” getting 250 seats. If this happens, it will make substantive changes to the coalition structure. The question is, will the regional forces remain united under a common leader and gain over the Congress and the BJP or will either the Congress and the BJP score over each other in a decisive manner between now and election time?
Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav understands power politics very well. He seems to have done his homework and is well aware that if the Congress reaches or exceeds 150 seats, it will hold the “trumps” but if it stumbles to a lower figure, the initiative will be with the secular front. Though no one has upset the Congress till now as it is widely believed, without their “numbers” no government is possible for those in the “secular camp”! This is the primary reason why no one will withdraw support from the UPA-2 and force a mid-term poll. Mr Yadav has taken an early initiative but if the regional parties have the numbers there will be many claimants to the throne. Can one rule out Sharad Pawar, J. Jayalalithaa, Mayawati, Nitish Kumar or Mamata Banerjee? Each of them today is capable of winning 20 seats and more. Mr Pawar may win at least 10-14 seats, but his political acumen is not matched by the number of seats his Nationalist Congress Party may win.
The question is whether the regional parties will elect a leader who has just 20-30 Lok Sabha seats as the Prime Minister while both the Congress and the BJP are placed at close to 150 seats each. If we apply a secular/non-secular parameter, the situation takes a very different turn. The Congress may have an advantage in the “number” game, but we still do not know if both the UPA-2 and the NDA will stay intact till 2014 and who will align with whom. We are at such a stage where one will see a fair amount of posturing but little in terms of hard decisions.
There is no emotion in politics, and “numbers” will dictate strategy. I would caution everyone to keep their powder dry and wait for events to unfold. The Congress continues to be weak in the states but is strong at the Centre, while the BJP is strong in their states but poor at the Centre. The regional parties also have an issue on internal dissent triggered by succession wars and a control for the assets of the party. We have just seen a confrontation in Maharashtra, where Mr Pawar is challenged by his nephew Ajit Pawar as the succession battle grips the NCP. The situation is no different in the Shiv Sena, where Uddhav Thackeray and Raj Thackeray are internecine contestants for power.
We all have a single vote and will vote with a positive cast of mind. We live in the present, which may be unsatisfactory, but we must plan for the future and nothing ever prospers if it starts out from negative thoughts. Although we have all voted as a nation for a coalition for the last three decades, this has not really worked in our favour. Come 2020 and we will be the youngest country with an average age of 29 years. We have done well over the past decade and more. Must we stumble now when the choice before us is the future or going back to a distant past?
The aam aadmi is two steps ahead of the political community in his understanding of what is happening in the country — which political party is doing what for him and to the nation. Armed with mobile phones with Internet facilities the people are already living in the future and are not looking for doles but for opportunities.

What we are witnessing in West Asia and many parts of Europe should not happen in India. Can we ignore 70,000 people coming out on the streets of Greece and Spain and a pitched battle between them and the security forces as the people protest over austerity and cuts? Governments have changed in both these countries and will change again. But does that change the economic reality of life? The UK and indeed all of Europe continues to reel under recession while much of North Africa and West Asia continues to be volatile. Oil prices continue to be high, taking a toll on the global economy.

The writer is a former Union minister

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