Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Power & Politics/ Mail Today, November 09, 2009

APART from the fact that both are governors, there is little that S.C. Jamir and H.R. Bhardwaj share in common. The former, despite being a popular leader of Nagaland, a four-time chief minister of the state and previously governor of Goa, has always remained on the periphery of Congress politics. Bhardwaj, on the other hand, has no mass base, has always opted for the safer route to Parliament through the Rajya Sabha, has been a minister at the Centre for nearly 15 years and is blessed with a sharp legal brain which has made him indispensable to the ruling establishment and particularly 10 Janpath.

Jamir presides over a state where a government took almost two weeks to take oath after the results gave the Congress-NCP coalition a simple majority; the other is in charge in Bangalore where inner party turmoil has brought the ruling BJP to the brink. This being the scenario, you would expect the 79-year old Jamir whom Jawaharlal Nehru had handpicked as his Parliamentary secretary in 1961, to play by the rules.
And we wouldn’t have batted an eyelid if Bhardwaj had lived up to his reputation and started fishing in Bangalore’s troubled waters on behalf of his benefactors in Delhi.

Quite the contrary is happening. Last week Jamir met the caretaker chief minister Ashok Chavan and the NCP’s Chagan Bhujbal and later in an unprecedented act of constitutional impropriety issued an appeal “to both the NCP and the Congress to respect the opinion of the people and form a government as soon as possible”. The statement came after it became clear that despite two weeks of haggling over portfolios, the leaders of the two parties were nowhere nearer to reaching an agreement on ministry allocations. Curiously, neither the Congress nor any of the opposition parties had staked claim for government formation. Also interesting is the fact that both Sonia Gandhi and Sharad Pawar who were expected to step in to resolve the crisis did not intervene at all and instead left it to the old fire fighter A. K. Antony to resolve the issue. Jamir’s conduct continues to raise eyebrows. Normally, a newly elected assembly is constituted before the expiry of the previous House, but Jamir allowed the crisis to persist to the point when the life of the last assembly ended before the newly elected one could be constituted. Technically, this means that the government cannot continue and Chavan should have stepped down, but since the Congress leadership had full faith in Jamir, it chose to remain silent on the many allegations of impropriety that the opposition parties continued to make even as the Congress struggled for an early resolution of the niggling differences between the coalition partners.

In giving the sparring partners a space that has clearly breached convention, Jamir has clearly gone far beyond his call of duty. His defence was that an incumbent chief minister could continue if the time lapsed between the last date of meeting of the previous assembly and the first meeting of the next assembly was less than six months.

Cut to Bangalore where the BJP government of B. S. Yedyurappa has been in crisis for nearly a week now. The party leadership in Delhi has always viewed Bhardwaj with more than a tinge of suspicion which isn’t surprising considering his proximity to the Congress establishment. In Bhardwaj, the BJP sees a throwback to the bad old days when every occupant of every Raj Bhavan was seen as a hatchet man of the party in power at the Centre, whose brief is to destabilise and dethrone nonfriendly governments.

When the crisis in Bangalore showed no signs of resolution, the BJP appeared resigned to the ace backroom operator getting down to his tricks to bring down the Yeddyurappa government and install an alternate “ secular” government.
Strangely this hasn’t happened so far, and last Friday, when journalists in Bangalore asked the governor about the impasse, his response, uncharacteristically low key, was :” I am merely watching the developments.
It is for the MLAs to sort out the problem that they themselves have created”. Is it a sign of a new, less aggressive Bhardwaj or of a new strategy the Congress is slowly adopting? My hunch is it is the latter.

There was a time when at the mere hint of differences within a non- Congress government, Akbar Road would dispatch cloak and dagger specialists to cajole and threaten non- Congress MLAs into supporting an alternate Congress government. Indira Gandhi pursued with this tactic till her very end and so did Rajiv. Sonia seems to be following a different path from her husband and mother- in- law.

After engineering two back- toback victories at the Centre, she clearly believes it’s the people who put you in power, not those who sit in Raj Bhavans. All credit to her.

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