In the loose and permissive democracy we have, governments at the Centre and in States barely get time from their diabolical political games and from their obsession with self-preservation to work for constructive ends. General elections to elect the country’s House of the People are nearly two years away but the jockeying and manipulation for 2014 are in full swing. Considering that every government takes some time to settle into office, where does that leave our ‘functioning’ democracy?
Every now and then, some states are poll-bound and in that cycle of election-after-election there are ‘political compulsions’ that militate against ‘tough decisions’.
Close on the heels of a macabre tussle between National Democratic Alliance partners Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his Gujarat counterpart Narendra Modi with an eye on the prime ministerial office have come the churnings in the United Progressive Alliance in what in totality can only be described as the theatre of the absurd. First it was the stormy petrel of West Bengal politics Mamata Banerjee who gave the ruling alliance at the Centre some sleepless nights. Now, it is the turn of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to throw a spanner in the works over Congress’ behaviour. The NCP may have only nine Members of Parliament but there is no denying that its leader, Sharad Pawar, is no pushover. He is wily and has cultivated leaders of parties across the political spectrum. He is one of the few leaders of today who has a mass base.
Pawar is capable of striking a bargain with any political party, be it J Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK or Mamata’s Trinamool Congress or Naveen Patnaik’s BJD or even the BJP if outside support from that party provides him a chance to take a shot at power. As of now he sees comfort in continuing with the UPA that is devoid of any strong leaders.
There were pretensions of principles being at stake when Mamata sang the populist tune and in fact sought to strengthen her appeal among the electorate in her home state. She couldn’t care less about how it impacted the country as a whole.
Now, the NCP is playing the power game to the hilt, blaming the Congress for ignoring the smaller parties and at the same time insisting that it would not rock the UPA boat. The motivation this time is the ambition of Sharad Pawar to don the prime ministerial mantle some day, howsoever remote be the possibility.
Pawar is distinctly uncomfortable with defence minister A K Antony being given the chair to the right of the prime minister in Cabinet meetings which Congress veteran Pranab Mukherjee used to occupy before he set out for Rashtrapati Bhavan. He wants to be anointed as Number Two which Congress president Sonia Gandhi would not countenance first because he had turned his back on the Congress, disputing Sonia’s right to be prime minister on the issue of her foreign origin before he formed his own party in 1999 and second because unlike Antony who would step aside without any resistance when Rahul Gandhi is sought to be foisted as prime ministerial candidate, Pawar is a different kettle of fish who can be quite a tenacious fighter.
It is not as though Pawar will quit the UPA if he is not given the Number Two position. He has his eyes as an alternative to the Number Two slot on the leadership of the Lok Sabha which is, under the original plan, likely to go to another Sonia protégé Sushil Kumar Shinde who had been schooled in politics by Sharad Pawar.
In all fairness to Pawar, his administrative acumen and political adroitness are far superior to those of Antony who is neither dynamic nor manipulative enough to handle the rough and tumble of politics, especially of the coalition variety. Indeed, Pawar had given evidence of his dynamism when, after the Mumbai bomb blasts of 1991 he, as chief minister, had restored near normalcy and given Mumbaiites a psychological boost. The blasts took place on a Friday and by Monday the Bombay Stock Exchange, which was the scene of one of the high-intensity blasts, was back in top gear with battered lifts restored. However, while Pawar is tainted by several allegations of corruption from time to time, Antony is spotlessly clean.
Besides the basic point of contention of Pawar’s claim to the Number Two position there are other issues that the NCP has taken up with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. These include the demand to make Tariq Anwar the deputy chairperson of the Rajya Sabha, a say in the appointment of governors, a coordination mechanism for UPA partners and the reining in of Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan who the NCP blames for a spate of corruption charges against ministers from the NCP.
It is a fact that in UPA II the healthy practice of regular consultations between the Congress and its allies, which was followed during UPA I, has been given the go-by. Congress leaders in general have become increasingly arrogant and self-centred and only when a constituent flexes its muscles do they wake up to the need to douse the flames.
Looking to the future, neither the Congress nor the BJP can feel comfortable with the equations of some of their allies with them. Mamata Banerjee has already announced that her party will go it alone in all future elections starting with the impending panchayat elections. Apart from other reasons, she is piqued with the Manmohan Singh government for having wooed the Left in the presidential poll. Strangely, the Samajwadi Party and its bitter rival the Bahujan Samaj Party have been voting on the same side, in favour of the UPA, but that cannot last indefinitely considering the bitterness between them. The NCP, which had so far remained steadfastly loyal to the Congress is now flexing its muscles and examining new options if it is not given due importance. The DMK is tied to the Congress but intrinsically, there is no love lost between them.
As for the BJP, its numerically strongest ally the Janata Dal (United) has already made it known that it would not be with the NDA if Narendra Modi is a prime ministerial candidate. In the churning process that is on, there is no knowing which way the Biju Janata Dal, the Telugu Desam Party, the fledgling party of Jagan Mohan Reddy and the Left would go.
All in all, it’s an interesting battle ahead but with all the jockeying that is already on and will only intensify, a great deal will depend on which alliance pips the other.
Kamlendra Kanwar is a veteran journalist and author. E-mail: email@example.com