Monday, May 14, 2012

Little Fish preparing to Eat the Big Old One/ Sunday Standard / May 13, 2012


The Inverted Politics of Little Fish Preparing to Eat the Big Old one

When Mamata comes calling, the Congress starts crawling. But this time, she didn’t call on any top Congress leader, but merely speculated on an early Lok Sabha poll. Her statements have often created stalemates in governance. Her opinion on a mid-term poll sent shivers down the spine of many UPA partners. On Saturday, senior Congress leaders were seen confabulating on how to dissect the latest long-range M-missile. Since she blamed an unnamed party for holding a meeting to explore the possibility of forcing an early election, well-connected leaders from the BJP and the Congress activated their media, intelligence and corporate connections to find out which is the party that is keen to topple the UPA government. No national party is currently willing to risk an election as they are plagued by internal dissent, ego clashes and misgovernance at the Centre. They want to hang on to power as long as possible. They wouldn’t like to seek a mandate from the people, since they didn’t get one earlier. They are in power thanks to coalition conspiracies, which kept the real leaders out of power.

Expectedly, the Congress was quick to dismiss Mamata’s statement as just another political joke. But there is no doubt that most regional parties want an end to the politically weak and paralysed Centre. Mamata may have decided against disclosing the party’s name, but the capital’s grapevine is giving many twists and turns to her hour-long meeting with Samajwadi Party President Mulayam Singh Yadav in New Delhi two weeks ago. The ostensible reason for the meeting was to discuss presidential possibilities, but they also discussed the implications of a Congress-sponsored candidate losing the election. Both the SP and Mamata’s TMC control 116,861 votes. A collaboration means they can get their candidate elected with the support of either the NDA or Congress.

Undoubtedly, the selection of the candidate will also determine the date of the national election. If the Congress is able to impose its choice on all UPA allies, including the SP, then elections will be held only in 2014. If the allies choose to reject the Congress nominee, it could well be the bugle for Lok Sabha polls in 2013. It is politically expedient for most regional parties to force the UPA to dissolve the current house before 2014. For the past three decades, India hasn’t behaved as one nation when it came to voting for one-party rule. States have chosen parties that jelled culturally, socially and economically. The Congress rules by itself only in one large state—Andhra Pradesh—which elects 42 MPs.

The political calculations of regional parties like the SP, NCP and TMC—which are supporting the government—are simple. The SP led in over 55 Lok Sabha seats in the recent Assembly elections. Even if voters decide to be uncharitable, Mulayam expects his party’s tally to rise from 22 to at least 45, if elections are held before 2014. Currently, he is out of power. If he is able to return with 45 MPs, not only will he dictate the numbers and names of his party’s cabinet portfolios, he may well be a candidate for prime minister. At the moment, he is at the Centre’s mercy over judicial and CBI-related problems. Mamata hasn’t hidden her national ambitions either. She is about to launch a newspaper and a TV news channel. Some of her followers have already spoken about her qualities and virtues. Her honeymoon with voters may have soured, but is not over yet. Didi would like to reap political dividends now, than wait until 2014. According to TMC insiders, if elections are held later this year, the party may win at least 30 of the 48 seats from West Bengal. It currently has only 19 seats.

One leader who is keen to go for elections sooner than later is NCP boss Sharad Pawar, whose party has only nine seats in the Lok Sabha. Though he is the only supporter Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has for obvious reasons, he expects to perform better in Maharashtra and a few other states, and double his tally. He is deeply hurt by the UPA establishment for targeting his party leaders and unleashing various investigative agencies against his ministers at the Centre and the states. Of late, Pawar has been kept out of all crucial government decisions.

If Pawar, Mulayam and Mamata decide to take the plunge, they will also be in position to rope in other regional leaders like former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, Tamil Nadu CM J Jayalalithaa and Orissa’s Naveen Patnaik to prevent the Congress from getting their support for its survival and strength. All of them are expected to do better than before. The Mamatas, Yadavs, Patnaiks and Pawars are now looking for a bigger share of the pie. They are the ones who will dictate the agenda and the leadership, and not those who have become leaders without leading any party to victory.
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