Monday, April 6, 2009

Power & Politics / Mail Today, April 6, 2009

IN POLITICS, running with the hare and hunting with the hounds is all too common. It is now almost three weeks since the two Yadav honchos, Mulayam Singh and Lalu Prasad, along with that eternal freelance coalition bedmate Ram Vilas Paswan, formed a regional power bloc within the larger ruling alliance.

The Congress leadership reacted initially with shock and horror at the UPA’s impending number shrinkage and continues to be baffled by the posturing of allies like the SP, RJD, Lok Janshakti Party, Nationalist Congress Party et al. During seat sharing talks, there was no shortage of insult trading and humiliation as Mulayam, Lalu, Paswan and Pawar denied the Congress even the seats held by its MPs. In normal times, that would be the political equivalent of talaq, talaq, talaq . Yet, all of them insist they are part of the UPA and, barring the NCP, swear they fully back Manmohan Singh as the prime ministerial candidate. Last week, Mulayam, Lalu and Paswan held their first joint press conference in Lucknow and defying all logic, Paswan claimed “ This is the real UPA”. Significantly, not a single Congress representative was present on the dais. This is strange considering it was the Congress that formed the UPA and though not protected by patent, received wisdom tells us the Congress is the head of the UPA. The appropriation of the alliance nomenclature leads me to believe that Paswan and Co are holding out an open ended invitation to the likes of the AIADMK, Biju Janata Dal, the Left parties and a whole lot of others who are opposed to the Congress to come on board. Strategically, this makes sense.

The UPA, as we know it, was formed post 2004 elections and, tardy as its performance has been, it has lasted five years. So are the bhaiyyas from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar usurping the name only because it worked for five years and rings a bell with voters? Or are they merely playing their cards until the elections to see what happens after? My belief is it is the latter.

If you recall, during the seat sharing talks, messrs Lalu, Mulayam and Paswan heaped abuse on the middlemen — interlocutors, if you prefer — even as they praised Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi. This is a strategy which is as safe as it can get, because the Congress reacts only if the abuse is aimed in the direction of the top two and a half — Rahul included. And Lalu and Co don’t do that. Digvijay, Dwivedi and Moily are easy targets because there need be no fear of retribution.

I think that the attempt to appropriate the UPA leadership is aimed at scuttling speculation that, if the numbers favour the other side, some of the new “ Fourth Front” partners may hop across to the NDA. Out of the 134 seats in Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh, the Congress currently has just 16, while the RJD, SP and LNJP together account for 67.

The Theory of Probability, when applied to politics in the heartland, says that the more seats you contest, the more your chances of winning more seats. Or so these leaders seem to believe. So they say nice things about Sonia and reiterate their support to Manmohan’s bid for another term but they leave nothing to chance to ensure that the Congress is roundly thrashed.

Make no mistake, these messiahs of social justice won’t desert the UPA. They are just regrouping before hoping to come back with greater numbers. The timidity of the Congress in the face of the Left blackmail during the last five years will be repeated. This time it will be the Fourth Front playing Fifth Columnist.

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