LESS than a week after its stunning electoral victory, some of the “ till death do us part” resolutions taken by the UPA seem to have been already cast aside. The euphoria of victory seldom lasts long because there are jobs to be done, tasks to be accomplished. But it took only five days to realise how soon and how unmanageable things can become. No one wants to diminish either the significance of the UPA victory or the sense of bonding of the allies, but the fact that ministers from just two, of the half a dozen or so, UPA coalition partners were sworn in on Friday tells its own story.
In the days since the Congress achieved the impossible, there appears to have been a sea change in its attitude to its smaller allies. Undeniably, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi share an immense rapport with alliance leaders, but once their letters of support were handed over to President Pratibha Patil, middlemen and other interlocutors seem to have taken over.
Prior to May 16, Manmohan and Sonia talked directly with the coalition leaders. Since then, it is the middlemen who are doing all the talking. And it has been mostly one- way. Alliance leaders attempting to get through to the two are told “ they are busy, please call later”. A former chief minister stormed out of a senior Congress leader’s residence after interlocutors reportedly kept him waiting in the reception area for nearly two hours, while the body language of others suggests a sense of being betrayed. Mulayam Singh Yadav, who helped the government survive the Left onslaught last July and leads the third largest party in the 15th Lok Sabha, could not even find a seat for himself at the swearing- in ceremony.
This is not to suggest that alliance leaders are noble souls who wrote out blank cheques of support for the secular cause. They are there for a share of the power pie — plum ministerial posts and the fringe benefits that go with it. Yet you would expect the Congress minions to treat someone like M. Karunanidhi with a little more respect. Congress leaders deputed to deal with him reportedly lectured him on the rampant corruption that went on in the ministries under the charge of DMK ministers during the last government.
They insisted on defining not only the quota for the DMK, but even listing names of possible ministers. Karunanidhi’s response was that the Congress should follow the coalition dharma and leave the job of nominating the coalition’s ministers to alliance partners. The “ Highest Command” came to know about the goings- on, and deputed Pranab Mukherjee to sort out the matter, but Dada is said to have been so embarrassed that he refused to get involved.
Karunanidhi wasn’t alone. For Lalu Prasad, the Congress’s staunchest ally of the last five years, the treatment was shabbier.
Despite floating a fourth front and fighting the Congress in Bihar and Jharkhand, he was being wooed till the results exposed his true worth. Overnight, he became persona non grata and though he did manage to speak to Sonia once, his attempts for a meeting have so far been unsuccessful. Karunanidhi and others are also miffed that the Congress, unlike the last time, has decided to bury the Common Minimum Programme. What the Congress has achieved electorally is nothing less than stupendous but what we are already seeing is a distasteful display of awesome, yet crude power.