Monday, October 13, 2008

Power & Politics / Mail Today, October 13, 2008

IN THEORY, the general elections are still seven months away. In practice, it could be a lot closer. That is why as the 14th Lok Sabha assembles after a rather long break this week, speculation mounts whether the House will meet for the full four weeks as scheduled; and more crucially, whether this will be its last session? But such questions, instead of throwing answers, trigger more questions. Has the Congress, for example, decided to go in for early elections ignoring the views of its allies? If so, is it because the party is confident that early elections will yield better results? Only Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have a clue about all this, and they won’t tell. But if this is destined to be the last session of this House, I am certain it will not go on till November 21 as scheduled because I have reason to believe that the Opposition will not allow the session to continue even for a week. This could put the government in a bit of a tight spot.

With its majority in doubt after the expulsions of many cross voters on the nuclear deal debate, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may not want sleaze tainting his government in another trial of strength. So he is more likely to seek a vote on account and get the House to approve supplementary demands involving additional expenditure of about Rs 1,00,000 crore and then dissolve the House.

What’s behind this new line of thinking is a lurking fear in the establishment that just as they did in July, the left and the right will join hands to attack the government on national security, communal violence, inflation and the nuclear deal et al. Both Sonia and Singh firmly believe that, with a little bit of help from a mostly embedded media, they can squarely beat the Opposition outside Parliament; it is the fight within Parliament they don’t have a stomach for. Most of the allies like the DMK and the RJD are not quite sure of their poll prospects and would want to remain in power till as long as they can. Only Sharad Pawar backs the “ early elections” line of Sonia and Singh. Ironic because Sharad feels the NCP can do better than the Congress in Maharashtra.

Sonia and Singh are expected to soon meet M Karunanidhi and Lalu Yadav to allay their worries about early polls but most leaders have pulled out political calculators to work out the electoral arithmetic. The primary question now is: will the combined tally of its allies be more than that of the Congress? At present the Congress has 150 MPs, more than the rest of the entire UPA which has 115. I am reliably told that a powerful group consisting of Whispers in corridor Singh: Early polls? Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu, Ram Vilas Paswan and couple of other leaders are working on a strategy — that includes seat sharing pacts — that would see the allies getting more seats than the Congress.

Once that plan is in place, they won’t mind an early election after forcing Congress to announce Singh as the prime ministerial candidate of the UPA and settling key portfolios even before the first vote is cast. But will Sonia and the Congress want to deal with another power centre within the UPA? The conduct, smooth or chaotic, of the impending Parliament will give us the answers to these and many other questions.

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