THIS is a battle royale that will have the whole country engrossed soon. Both Mayawati and Sonia Gandhi are approaching the impending Lok Sabha elections on the premise that “ if I can’t become the prime minister, I will make sure you don’t”. Mayawati is convinced that unless her BSP contains Sonia and the Congress in Uttar Pradesh and wins at least 40 seats, she will have nothing except a minimal role to play in national politics. So she has chosen the strategy and targets very carefully and, mark my words, it’s going to be a nasty fight to the finish. The theme her advisors have chosen is “ The Gandhi parivar is all about vinaash, not vikas ”. She has already compiled data about Rae Bareli and Amethi which show that despite being represented in Parliament by the most powerful political family in the country for over four decades, the two constituencies remain among the most backward in the country. She sees these constituencies as mere dharamshalas where the Gandhis come for overnight stay in government guest houses that have been refurbished like palaces. According to Mayawati, the number of closed factories, schools and hospitals is proof the Gandhis are not ready to put their money where their mouths are.
She will attack the Congress leadership for spending public money on airstrips, guest houses and other facilities for their personal use and also seek details about their MPLAD funds. Mayawati has already charged Sonia with ignoring the rest of UP and will soon release details about visits made by the mother- son duo to their constituencies to the near exclusion of the rest of the state. Finally, Mayawati is readying two of the most powerful of her caste leaders to take on Sonia and Rahul. It’s a battle that will leave egos bruised.
IN OUR parliamentary system of governance , the Prime Minister is seen as the first among equals, but with the government in choppy waters, it is open season. Collective responsibility has become a casualty and union ministers, perhaps taking advantage of the PM’s genial nature, are indulging in fratricide. In the old order, a Cabinet meeting was a meeting of minds and the notion of collective responsibility was taken seriously and little of what transpired leaked out. Now ministers go for each other’s jugular, then come out and criticise policy matters, take sides in corporate affairs, in public. The turmoil in the aviation sector is the latest example. Tobacco baron Praful Patel got more than he bargained for when he blamed Petroleum Minister Murli Deora for not lowering the prices of aviation fuel after internal crude prices fell by half. Deora hit back by releasing details of the thousands of crores that private airlines owed the oil companies.
Their fight is not new, since Deora is a staunch Sonia loyalist while Patel is still seen as a suspect since he is a follower of Sharad Pawar who is close to Jet Airways’ Naresh Goyal and Vijay Mallya of Kingfisher. Mallya was even coopted as an office bearer in the Cricket Board by Pawar.
The Kamal Nath- Chidambaram feud is as old as the UPA Government and each has more than once attacked the other, even complained in writing to the PM. Shivraj Patil’s views on homosexuality almost echo that of a Catholic priest while Anbumani Ramadoss who turns insomniac without his daily quota of controversy went around mocking the home minister until Manmohan finally intervened. Maybe all this has something to do with this government in which the Prime Minister is not seen as a first among equals.
LAST week, I raised doubts about the durability of the Parliament session which started on Friday. I wasn’t then aware that even the PM will be giving the session a long skip. Tomorrow and again in the second week of November, Manmohan Singh will take off on official visits abroad. That leaves me wondering if the government is serious about taking up any legislative business during this session, except getting the supplement demands for grants passed. Normally, with the market meltdown and rising communal violence, the Opposition would have loved to put the government on the mat, but they would rather go out and campaign in the states where elections have been announced. Yet, the Opposition wants the government to make a firm commitment about the winter session.
The government is in a bind. With the DMK acting like the enemy within, it is not sure of a majority and could well face a defeat if a no- confidence motion is moved. But if the government adjourns the House abruptly, then it will have to convene Parliament again unless it recommends the dissolution of the House to ring in a general election which could be scheduled in February and March. Talk of weak governments – the UPA is living on daily wages.