Too many problems, too little time

The UPA may take comfort in the TINA factor and that 2014 is two years away, but the ground is slipping away from under the UPA’s feet

We are in the midst of a global financial crisis though it looks insignificant compared to the daily chaos on the home political front. In public perception, the UPA government is in the dock for food inflation, which continues unchecked, while scams tumbling out of the Congress closet. The UPA may take comfort in the TINA factor and the fact that 2014 is two years away, but signs of the ground slipping away from under the UPA’s feet are unmistakable.

The Congress has a crisis with its allies, the DMK in particular. The 2G mess is far from over; the court case apart, there is significant involvement of significant people for the issue to linger on the front pages for a long time. Meanwhile, we have another issue brewing in Jammu and Kashmir where the National Conference is embroiled in the custodial death of Syed Yousuf, an Abdullah family loyalist. The circumstances of his death, along with the statements of eyewitness and the accused, have made things very difficult for the Abdullah family.
This is the first “cash for seat” scam and chief minister Omar Abdullah should have immediately ordered a CBI probe. A judicial probe by a high court judge is not the answer as both Farooq Abdullah, a Union minister, and the chief minister have been named in the case.
The matter is quite serious, and People’s Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti is in no mood to let it drop. Mr Omar Abdullah, a compulsive and often candid “tweeter”, maintains a disturbing silence on this issue. While the PDP takes the agitation to the streets, with TV crews in full attendance, I hope the state government authorities will show restraint and maturity. The Congress cannot support the NC beyond a point because the alleged custodial death of Syed Yousuf is a grave “political accident”.

The Winter Session of Parliament approaches and we will soon have round three of the Lokpal Bill. I was happy to see a very positive law minister, Salman Khurshid, exchanging views with Anna Hazare on a news channel recently. If this mature attitude is adopted by both sides then complex negotiations can take place without acrimony. Several new voices are surfacing in the Congress and I hope the mistakes of April and August 2011 will not be repeated.
The Standing Committee’s discussions will be captured and monitored word by word by the 24x7 media and the views expressed by MPs will be known. The voting public is very much in favour of the “Anna topi” and will form its own opinion.
Mr Hazare has made his intentions clear about the Congress — what he means to do in the Hisar byelection leaves no one in doubt. Tough negotiations lie ahead on the Jan Lokpal issue.

The Congress is under pressure on several fronts. It has a crisis in the Northeast, both in Arunachal Pradesh, where chief minister Jarbom Gamlin has lost confidence, and in Manipur where an economic blockade is underway. These issues, however, will slip into the background as a fresh scam involving illegal iron ore mining, running into thousands of crores of rupees, erupts in Goa. The Public Accounts Committee report was not tabled as many of the people involved in the case used “technical” points to protect chief minister Digambar Kamat, who is also the mines minister. Mr Kamat, in fact, has held the mining portfolio for the past 10 years in both BJP and Congress governments.
The Congress high command will have to step in and take quick and decisive action. Any attempts to stall investigation will harm the party. While three Congress MLAs named in the scam have refused to sign the report, this has not prevented the report from reaching the media.
We had a mining scam in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh which was marked by CBI investigations, arrests, the resignation of the chief minister and several cases being registered after punitive raids. Will Goa be treated differently?
Delay in taking action will make things worse. Look at the speed with which Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati dropped two ministers, Ranganath Misra and Badshah Singh, this week after their indictment by the state Lokayukta. With these dismissals, the total number of ministers sacked by Ms Mayawati in four years has gone up to 13. Prompt and decisive action brings timely closure to issues and is just plain good politics.
Sonia Gandhi’s return to “political duties” will help the UPA face the crises better. Mrs Gandhi has till now done well in cementing the party, taking it from 116 seats in 1999 to a high of 206 seats in 2009. What the Congress cadres expect her to do now is not short of performing miracles.
Timing is the key to success in politics and the Congress high command has done none too well on that score.
Besides the issues mentioned already, there is a situation in Andhra Pradesh where under Y.S.R. Reddy the Congress won 32 out of 42 seats but now faces a very tough time. The party has lost face and credibility in Telangana, and doesn’t have a leader strong enough to lead the party in the other parts of Andhra Pradesh. Meanwhile, issues are piling up in Rajasthan.
Over and above this the “Anna cap” has a following and can cause immense damage in the months to come.

The coalition mess in UPA-2 and internal warfare in the BJP for the top job has shifted attention from both the Congress and the BJP in Delhi to the states. I do not think anyone in either party today can influence an election result in any state. We are in coalition politics and a two-three per cent swing in either direction can make or break a government.
I have witnessed many a crisis in the past but this is different as everyone, even those in governance, is concerned about the future.
I still maintain that there is a very distinct possibility of mid-term polls and several issues can combine to make this a reality over the next three months.

The writer is a former Union minister

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