Think 2014

The Congress and the Trinamul Congress could well be jumping from the frying pan into the fire if they declare war on each other and run out of options

A strange situation is developing in the country and senior politicians, already perplexed by the pace of events, no longer have a clear view of the future. Over the last 30 years, many of us have seen and experienced sudden turns of events in coalition politics, but today it has become difficult to predict what is in store in the next 24 hours.
Despite the fact that the UPA can arrange the “numbers” required to maintain its majority in Parliament, there is deep political uncertainty at the Centre.

The UPA, and the Congress in particular, is under severe pressure after the debacle in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab Assembly polls, and the revolt in Uttarakhand by Harish Rawat and his 14 MLAs has not helped matters.
The Congress has options — it can go with the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Janata Dal (United), the Rashtriya Janata Dal or even the Left. But there are no free lunches in politics and each association comes with a political cost. The case of the BSP and the RJD is very different; their assistance has a high risk factor and may get the Congress in trouble. The Uttar Pradesh elections and the SP’s victory have enabled Mulayam Singh Yadav to target 40 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in 2014. He has to keep this in mind as he plans his party’s moves in the current crisis facing the UPA.
All things considered, the Congress and the Trinamul Congress could well be jumping from the frying pan into the fire if they declare war on each other and run out of options.
Barring these Assembly election results, the Congress has done rather well in the past decade. Since 1999, it has virtually doubled its tally in the Lok Sabha, from 110 to 206 seats, and the credit for this goes to Congress president Sonia Gandhi who has held the party together.
But things started going wrong after the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. The very fact that Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev were able to shake the UPA to its roots was a shock, especially as it laid bare the utter chaos in the government’s decision-making process.
The Congress has managed to stay in power at the Centre despite threats from outside and within, but its survival has come at a very high price. Although no one from the Congress was found to be directly involved in the 2G spectrum scam, the party suffered electorally as the AIADMK defeated both the DMK and the Congress in Tamil Nadu last year.
Having lost one UPA ally, Prime Minister Manhohan Singh and the Congress are loath to seeing a repeat of the complications and uncertainties with another party.
But all politicians must remember that the voting public watches each and every move of the government and its leaders, and lapses don’t go unnoticed, or unpunished.
The DMK’s demands were very different from the Trinamul Congress’. The DMK and the multiple wings of the Karunanidhi family were into asset accumulation whereas the Trinamul Congress wants to keep the Left out of power in West Bengal. Trinamul Congress’ concerns lie left of centre and are totally in conflict with the reform agenda necessary for the times we live in. Sadly, for West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, there is no middle path on these issues as her priority is the decimation of the Left in West Bengal.
Politicians on both sides would do well to avoid a confrontation, but the politics of West Bengal cannot continue in this manner. Ms Banerjee cannot be West Bengal’s chief minister and yet function as a leader of the Opposition without severe loss to her credibility as an administrator.
Ms Banerjee is a charismatic leader with very high standards of personal integrity. She lives for the aam aadmi and I have little doubt that she can still sweep the polls if she is made to fight another elections in West Bengal. But high expectations are always followed by higher disappointments. It’s been nine months since the Trinamul Congress was voted to rule West Bengal. The honeymoon period is over and Ms Banerjee now has to govern the state and fulfil her poll promises. People expect economic recovery, they expect her to resolve development issues and create employment in the state. Supreme leaders have a style of their own and common logic does not apply to them. Few, if any, will dare to advise them caution.
But they have to learn to deliver.
Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has delivered a very complicated Budget. His 2012-13 Union Budget hides more than it reveals. In the current global economic crisis, the UPA needs maneuverability in tackling economic issues. But in all fairness to the Trinamul Congress, the series of reform proposals pending in Parliament will also be opposed by the Left, SP and regional forces.
Over the next six months, as we head towards state Assembly elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, governance will not be easy. The situation within the Congress is best seen through the drama in Uttarakhand where Vijay Bahuguna had been sworn in as the chief minister, but the majority of Congressmen were with Harish Rawat and were threatening to take oath, defying the party high command.
Political strategies at this time demand caution and restraint. Confrontation is not an option for the UPA and its allies. Things can be very different a year from now, as few politicians and their parties can duck the anti-incumbency trend. The race to 2014 general elections is still open, as no one at the moment looks like a clear winner.

The writer is a former Union minister

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