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Publication Date : 21-09-2012


It is the beginning of the end. Whether Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee goes ahead with her decision to withdraw support to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the centre, or has second thoughts about it, the writing on the wall is clear. Federalism is asserting itself and the Congress is feeling the heat.

It is interesting to note, though, how short public and political memory is. In the first term of the UPA, the Left parties were virtually alone in opposing FDI in multi-brand retail and were being attacked on a daily basis by the corporate-owned media, and of course, corporate houses.

Journalists seem to have forgotten this and were heard asking Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) general-secretary Prakash Karat at a press conference whether Mamata Banerjee had stolen his party’s thunder. This, in fact, when she and other regional parties have only recently joined the Left in opposing the "anti-people measure".

The majority of Members of Parliament are opposed to FDI in multi-brand retail, the hike in diesel prices and restrictions on LPG cylinders. This is evident from the number of political parties, including the Left and the Indian People's Party (BJP), participating in the nationwide bandh for which there has been unprecedented mobilisation. A government stung by the coal scam along with many other issues of corruption, sought to push through the anti-people measures under the stewardship of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and finance minister P Chidambaram without really gauging the kind of resentment this would invoke.

More so, as peoples’ protests across the country have impinged on the consciousness of even opposition parties such as the BJP that have realised the importance of seizing the initiative and moving in for the kill.

Regional parties, always just that bit more wedded to the ground than the so-called national parties, have opened channels of communication with each other. This could ensure that a Mamata stepping down is not replaced by a Mulayam stepping in. No one seems to be willing to bail this government out, having realised that support to the Congress on these issues will result in opposition from the people in the general election.

The Congress, in its ill-found wisdom, obviously took the decision to go move ahead with reforms so that it could get back international and corporate trust. As Karat said in a press conference: “The commitments Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has made to the United States stand above the interests of the people of this country.”

And the manner in which these announcements have been made, suspending the process of consultation and bypassing the mandate of Parliament, is actually reprehensible. In 2009, the standing committee of Parliament unanimously decided that multi-brand retail sector would not be opened up for foreign companies. Not a single Congress member who attended that meeting had voiced dissent then. This was seen then as consensus of Parliament, something that Singh and Chidambaram have now grossly disregarded.

If Mamata Banerjee goes ahead with her decision to withdraw support, and no one steps in, the end might come even sooner than predicted.

The BJP wants a special session of Parliament and a confidence motion and even if the government demurs, it will have to face a similar motion in the winter session of Parliament that is just two months away. It will be difficult for any party to bail the Congress out on these issues, particularly as the swell of opinion from the ground is registering a huge disaffection with the UPA government at all levels.

And even if the out-of-touch-with-the-people leaders of the Congress party have no idea of this, their allies are more astute and know that the ground is slipping from under their feet. Mamata Banerjee and Mulayam Singh Yadav both have a great deal to lose by staying with the Congress, and a lot to gain by walking away and that is clearly what both have decided to do.

Both are ambitious leaders and will desert a sinking ship at the drop of a hat. FDI in retail did not bother them during the first term of the UPA despite protests from Left parties, simply because the honeymoon between the Congress and the electorate had not shown signs of disrepair then. Now it bothers them as both have realised that the marriage is over for good insofar as voters are concerned. Hence the passion and the decisions to withdraw support.

The smile has thinned on Congress faces as the "smart move" by the government--note, soon after former finance minister Pranab Mukherjee was bundled off as President of India--has boomeranged. No one is taking the bait this time, as the call of real politics is too loud and strong to be ignored. Mulayam Singh is dreaming of leading a third front coalition to power as the prime minister; Nitish Kumar--a chief minister sitting on a good number of parliamentary seats--is also a candidate for the top post and quite acceptable to a majority of regional parties; Mamata Banerjee wants a strong presence in Parliament and does not want to lose the vote to the CPI-M; in short, no regional party can really afford to embrace these so-called reforms without giving up its stakes at the hustings.

The end for the UPA will be humiliating, to say the least. More so, because of the absence of a leadership, and the overabundance of ministers who have forgotten what the poor of India look like. A home minister who can say that Coalgate will be forgotten just like Bofors needs to be removed from office.

The statement smacks of arrogance and ignorance. No one in this country has forgotten Bofors, and certainly not the millions who had voted out the Congress government for its lapse. Illegal burial of cases by compromised investigating agencies who take orders from the top is not a testimony to poor memory, but to crass and autocratic political behaviour. The Congress has paid the price for Bofors. It will pay the price again for the coal scam and the corruption reflected in spiralling prices and uncontrollable inflation.

The writer is consulting editor of The Statesman


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