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India's Congress in for rough ride with new ally

Publication Date : 29-09-2012


The Congress government may have sailed through a political crisis, but choppy days are ahead for India's ruling coalition.

The government appears to have swopped one troublesome ally for another in Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi, or Socialist Party.

He and his political rival Mayawati, who uses only one name, of the Bahujan Samaj Party are propping up Congress, though they are not part of the ruling coalition. But it is Yadav who promises a bumpy ride.

"Mulayam Singh Yadav's agenda doesn't tally with the Congress, but he wants benefits, so it is a double game," said Badri Narayan Tiwari of the G.B. Pant Social Science Institute in Allahabad.

Last week, the Congress-led government was thrown into chaos after a key ally Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee withdrew support in protest against a decision to allow foreign supermarket chains to operate in India as well as a hike in diesel prices.

While her exit did not topple the government, political analysts said Congress will have to navigate increasingly assertive allies as the 2014 elections near.

For starters, next month, Yadav's party, which is in power in the politically important state of Uttar Pradesh, is announcing candidates for the 2014 general election, more than a year ahead.

As such, Yadav is expected to ramp up the rhetoric and look for opportunities to cobble together an alliance of smaller parties for the elections.

"The reason for announcing candidates early is to give them enough time to prepare for elections. Also, you can't rule out early elections," Samajwadi Party spokesman Rajendra Chaudhary told The Straits Times.

The party may announce candidates for 60 of the 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh.

Though Yadav, a former wrestler turned three-time chief minister, does not want the Congress government to fall, he is expected to needle it to get financial benefits for Uttar Pradesh from federal coffers.

He has promised to oppose the government's retail reforms in the parliament. And his son Akhilesh Yadav, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, has been openly critical of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's reforms.

"With the Congress looking at further reforms, it remains to be seen how it goes down with Mr Yadav," said Sudhir Panwar, an Uttar Pradesh-based analyst.

Mayawati, a leader of the Dalit underclass, remains silent, apparently watching and waiting to see what Yadav does.

India has a complicated coalition-style political situation where Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the two main national parties, need the support of smaller regional parties for power. This has led to the rise of regional satraps - big bosses - with disproportionate power. Some of them even dictate policy, like Ms Banerjee did in the second term of the Congress government.

The ruling Congress has a coalition cobbled together with support from regional parties from the west, centre and south, which all have their own agendas.

Among the other allies, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Tamil ally, has also been blowing hot and cold. A section of the party is now questioning the need to stay in the alliance, while the Nationalist Congress Party, whose leader Sharad Pawar is among the most senior ministers in the Cabinet, has been trying to control differences between Congress and his own party in Maharashtra state.

As the federal rainbow coalition goes through the wringer, the opposition BJP hopes to gain from the uncertainty.

"The BJP is ready for polls," said its president Nitin Gadkari at an ongoing party meeting.


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