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Politicking for power

Publication Date : 27-09-2012


Politics is different from politicking. One is an art of running a government, while the other is mere manipulation of votes. What is currently going in India is politicking -- how to gather sufficient votes to dislodge the Congress-led United Progress Alliance (UPA). The withdrawal of support by the Trinamool Congress by Mamata Banerjee has presented the opposition with a god-sent opportunity. Her 19 votes in the Lok Sabha has reduced the Congress coalition to 254 from 273, which is the magical figure for a simple majority in the lower house.

Since the government has gone ahead with the notification of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail, the matter about reforms has gone beyond the orbit of negotiation. It is also apparent that the Congress must have calculated that it can muster a majority on the matter of reforms. This means that even if Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party with 22 members decides to withdraw his support to the Congress from outside, Mayawati's Bahujan Samajwadi Party with 21 votes or smaller parties with their fewer votes are ready to step in to sustain the Manmohan Singh government.

The vehement opposition by the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) is understandable, but many in the opposition, including Mulayam Singh, are not willing to side with any combination which has BJP as its member. The BJP itself has diluted its stand on FDI and wanted a special session of parliament to remind the government that the then finance minister, Pranab Mukherjee, had given an assurance to the house that parliament would be consulted on the issue.

In fact, the role of Pranab Mukherjee, now the president of India, is going to be very crucial. It looks as if the Congress Party anticipated such things and placed him at the crucial position. He is going to decide, if and when the Congress is defeated in the Lok Sabha, the party that should be invited to form the government. Next to the Congress, which has 205 members at present, is the BJP with 114 seats. It is difficult to imagine that the president will ask it to form the government. Already, a third front has come up with Mulayam Singh Yadav, Chandrababu Naidu and the Left. It will throw its hat in the ring when the opportunity arises.

True, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has 154 members but the Mulayam Singh alliance is also claiming to have the support of many other parties. Several permutations and combinations will emerge as long as the Congress doesn't have a clear majority. The situation the president may face is whether he should continue with the Congress till the next parliament session in winter or to get into the exercise of finding a successor.

The opposition is not a united lot and not in a position to give a list of a majority of members if the president were to invite it. The Bharat Bandh, a futile exercise that cost the nation some 180 billion rupees (US$3.36 billion), showed that one group demonstrated against the price rise and FDI at Jantar Mantar and the other on Parliament Street. For the Congress, it may be difficult to have an alliance of 273 as its strength was before Mamata Banerjee walked out. But there is no other viable front emerging to challenge the Manmohan Singh government which is now asserting in the economic field.

The debate on a mid-term poll is understandable because the government in a minority cannot function properly with all the guns booming in the opposition. If there is no political consensus, the country cannot make any progress in the conditions where even the allies of the Congress were not with it wholly as was seen during the Bharat Bandh. The attitude of the BJP indicates that it will not allow parliament to function even in the winter session or the subsequent ones. In other words, the choice before the Congress is whether to continue to stay in power without the sanction of the people who represent parliament or to go back to the people and seek a fresh mandate.

Opportunism in these conditions, however unfortunate, is absolutely logical. Take the case of Bihar. It is a peculiar state which does little to push back the backwardness but Chief Minister Nitish Kumar says at the top of his voice that the mere size of it -- its strength in the 543-member Lok Sabha is 40 -- entitles the state to have all its demands met. Nitish Kumar, a comparatively reasonable person, too has not been able to bottle up his ambition or that of the state. In the crisis-ridden politics, where every Lok Sabha member counts, he has come to believe that Bihar's seats can tilt future parliaments and political parties.

This may be true in a particular situation. Even otherwise, the weight of 40 members is too heavy to be brushed aside. My criticism is the demand that Nitish Kumar has made. He has declared that Bihar would vote for a party or a group if his state is accorded a special status. The constitution has a couple of Articles and confers the special status. Jammu and Kashmir and some states in the northeast have it. I shall be surprised if Bihar gets special status.

In fact, all states need a special status. The centre should have only three-four subjects -- Defence, Foreign Affairs, Communications and Currency -- with it and give the rest to the states which are really close to the people and reflect their aspirations. The governance of some 70 years since independence has proved to the states that for every important work they have to rush to New Delhi. In fact, they have set up their mini-offices with Resident Commissioners, all senior IAS officers, in the national capital to pursue matters relating to their state.

A people's movement to fight against the ills that have crept into governance would have been helpful. A Lokpal bill is the most important measure needed at this time. But when the focus is on how to grab power, the people are used only as an instrument, which the different political parties are busy doing. It is an unfortunate situation but India has to live with it until its gets rid of such elements who have no interest in the nation except to occupy the chair.

The writer is an eminent Indian columnist.


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