Monday, August 18, 2008

Power & Politics/ Mail Today, August 18, 2008

IF YOU think the UPA’s four- year- long nightmare ended on July 22, wait a minute. The government may no more be dependent on the 59 MPs from the solid Left Block in the Lok Sabha but with payback season at hand, fresh nightmares are threatening to ruin what it was thought would be a seamless run up to the elections.
And Shibu Soren isn’t the only one who is giving sleepless nights to Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, although it beats me how the UPA could concede his demand considering that the Jharkhand’s chief minister is not decided by the largest party in the Assembly but by the eight Independents, one of whom, Madhu Koda, now occupies the office. The Independents are hardly likely to oblige a government on its last legs when they know they have three more years in the legislature before the people make up their minds again.
But the real problem for the government, very acute at that, lies elsewhere.
It’s the Samajwadi Party, whose new found love for the Congress was what saved the government last month. As gratitude, Manmohan and Sonia are ready to offer ministerships to its members, but the SP will settle for nothing less than eight posts — five at the Cabinet level and three ministers of state.
The logic goes thus: the SP has 36 MPs making it the second largest contingent in the ruling establishment and if Lalu’s RJD with considerably less MPs can have three Cabinet Ministers and two ministers of state, five senior plus three junior ministers is the minimum they will settle for.
Manmohan’s problem are compounded by the fact that there is only one vacancy, in the Coal Ministry.
Lucrative as it is, it cannot make up for the many others they have set their eyes on. Mulayam Singh Yadav has made it amply clear his party will not settle for new ministries that may be carved out — minor Irrigation and that sort of stuff. They only want major portfolios.
Manmohan and Sonia cannot ask the allies to withdraw ministers to accommodate the SP’s demands, so the two have drawn up a Kamaraj Plan 2008 which involves many senior ministers being asked to give up office for party work in the belief that in an election year, that is the more onerous task carrying much more responsibility.
They include Arjun Singh, AK Antony, Shivraj Patil, AR Antulay, Sushil Kumar Shinde, Jaipal Reddy, Sis Ram Ola, Mahavir Prasad, PR Kyundiah, Santosh Mohan Dev, Saifuddin Soz, Mani Shankar Aiyar and Murli Deora, all Cabinet Ministers, Oscar Fernandes and Vilas Muttemwar, both ministers of state with independent charge and MoSs, E Ahmed, Prithvi Raj Chauhan, Anand Sharma, Ashwani Kumar and MH Ambareesh. Some of them won’t be missed, like Ambareesh, who I doubt knows where his office is located.
The list has thrown up fresh problems because each of them represents a caste or regional pressure group which the government can offend at its own peril. Besides, the list comprises Congressmen with loyalties split between Race Course Road and 10 Janpath. Thus if Manmohan wants to get a non- performer out, his proximity to 10 Janpath may ensure he hangs on. And vice versa. It remains to be seen how between them, the UPA Chairperson and the Prime Minister sort this out. But sort it they must. Otherwise Mulayam’s promise of seat adjustments and joint campaign in Uttar Pradesh may remain just that – a promise. It could put the parliamentary careers of some high profile Congress MP's in jeopardy.

No comments: