Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Snippets/ Mail Today, May 25, 2009

While many of the GenNext leaders and debutant Congress MPs wait anxiously till Tuesday to find out if they have a place in Manmohan’s A- Team, C. P. Joshi has already made it — deservedly so — the only parliamentary first- timer in the Cabinet. He was primarily responsible for the defeat of the Vasundhara Raje- led BJP government in Rajasthan late last year and it was he, and not Ashok Gehlot, who was tipped to succeed Raje. His wife and daughter, who campaigned alongside him for the assembly, were so confident of his victory that they did not bother to turn up on voting day. Joshi lost by one vote and the gentleman that he is, he did not ask for a recount. Not only his family but the people of Bhilwara came out in full strength to give him a record breaking margin in the Lok Sabha poll.
The cabinet will be richer for his experience.

When politics gets separated by language
POLITICS in India is an unending conflict: between secularism and communalism, between the Congress and the BJP, the Left and Right, the Samajwadis and the Bahujans. In a country of more than 1,500 languages and dialects, it is sometimes also a conflict of tongues. The lack of a widely spoken national language almost led to the collapse of a carefully assembled coalition. As happened last week when DMK supremo M. Karunanidhi and his entourage landed in Delhi for Cabinet formation talks. I am told the talks would have been more fruitful and would not have ended in the stalemate they did if the interlocutors on either side had a clearer idea of what the other side was saying. The large Tamil Nadu contingent that was holed up in the state government guest house here included four who were familiar with the English language, with two among them being from Karunanidhi's family.

The other two were contentious names and were thus kept off from much of the bargaining talks. On the night of May 21, when the Prime Minister rang up Karunanidhi and explained his government’s priorities on development, infrastructure and employment generation, a family member who answered the call duly put on the speaker phone. Congress sources say that the message translated for the ageing DMK leader’s benefit was to the effect that the Congress was in no mood to hand over any of these portfolios.

They aver this is not what the PM said and ascribe the miscommunication to the sibling rivalry in the state’s ruling family where one member does not want another to get the prestigious and lucrative communications ministry. The frequent calls and the long English to Tamil, and Tamil to English, translations not only took a long time, they were often deliberately misrepresented, one top Congress leader told me.

Karunanidhi must have felt humiliated at the “ conditions” laid down by Congress but it appears to me that the real reason for his discomfort is the DMK second rung leaders’ desire to upstage each other. Maybe all states should take the three language formula seriously so that future governments are not put at risk because of communication errors.

POLITICS, without the likes of Ajit Singh, would be incredibly boring. The man has floated more parties and done more political somersaults than he would care to remember. Just two months before the elections, he hitched his Rashtriya Lok Dal to the NDA wagon and won five seats, all from his western Uttar Pradesh pocketborough.

It was a bounty by his standards since his party had three seats in the last Lok Sabha. Assuming that the numbers nicely add up for some bargaining to vault himself into the UPA camp, he made the right mating calls and Congress’ Digvijay Singh responded. But the negotiations ran into early hiccups as Singh wanted cabinet berths for himself and his son, a first time MP, as also the assurance of a Rajya Sabha seat for a close female friend and associate who had lost the election.

For Diggy Raja, who has in recent times put the likes of Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh in their places, such demands just didn’t make sense and he bluntly asked Singh to first merge his party with the Congress. Party circles say Ajit Singh reiterated his pet demand for a separate state of Harit Pradesh, which the Congress agreed to “ consider”, but there were noisy protests outside Akbar Road by Congress workers from Uttar Pradesh. For once, the ordinary workers won against the number crunchers inside.

Presidential precedent
TWO WEEKS ago, when prophets and pollsters had warned the country of a hung Parliament, I had in these columns speculated on the possible post- results moves of President Pratibha Patil. Fortunately, the decimation of the BJPled NDA meant she did not have to make any hard choices, and the invitation to Manmohan Singh to form the government was merely a formality. Yet, more than a few eyebrows were raised at the lack of any reference in the Rashtrapati Bhavan communiqué to the government being asked to prove its majority in the Lok Sabha.
Legal eagles feel it would have been in order if the President had followed recent history and asked the government to prove its majority within a time frame. It has been more than a generation since the country has had a truly majority government and it happened last when Rajiv Gandhi was sworn in 25 years ago with a brutal four- fifths majority, making the confidence vote in the house meaningless.

No government since then has held a majority and all of them have had to prove their strength, starting with the V. P. Singh government in 1989 which showed its might after the Left and the Right joined hands; five years later, P. V. Narasimha Rao proved his majority though the dubious means adopted to achieve it became public only much later. In his first stint in 1996 Atal Bihari Vajpayee did not have the majority and resigned before the vote was taken. H. D. Deve Gowda, I. K. Gujral, the two Vajpayee governments, and the last one led by Manmohan were all regimes where the ruling party did not command a majority in the house and were therefore asked to seek the trust of the house.

Technically, the UPA government has the support of 262 MPs — short of the halfway mark — but with others pledging outside support, it has the backing of 322 MPs. So did all governments, barring Vajpayee's in 1996, yet they were all asked to seek a trust vote. I wrote two weeks ago that all presidents have set precedents that have lasted beyond their tenures. President Patil has just set one.

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