The political script prepared by the Congress envisaged in these columns is being enacted thus far with uncanny precision. Early last month the social link established by Coalgate accused Mr. Manoj Jayaswal with Mrs. Sonia Gandhi through the courtesy of her Political Secretary Mr. Ahmed Patel was reported. Immediately afterwards events started to move. Mr. Akhilesh Singh Yadav conferred with Miss Mamata Banerjee. Miss Banerjee stepped up her threat of pulling out of the government unless Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in retail trade was roll backed. And Mr. Jayaswal became very active in revealing not only his links with the current Coal Minister but also with top BJP leaders. These events led this writer to speculate on the prospects of a mid-term poll.
The reasoning offered in favour of a mid-term poll was simple. There was media buzz that Coal Minister Mr. Shriprakash Jaiswal’s dismissal was imminent. This was after Mr. Manoj Jayaswal had revealed that 14 percent shares of a coal block license were allotted to the Minister free of cost for disposing off as he thought fit. The probability of the coal minister’s removal was dismissed in these columns. It was pointed out that the Minister had too much embarrassing information such as the beneficiary of the 14 percent shares for the government to sack him. It was further opined that that a mid-term poll fought on the issue of FDI on retail was the best option for the government.
On September 15th it was pointed out in these columns:
“A hint is provided by what the Prime Minister reportedly remarked: ‘It is better to go down fighting’ In other words it is better to go down fighting for reforms than to go out in disgrace due to corruption. At one stroke the Congress in the event of a mid-term poll has shifted the main attention from corruption to the debate about economic reforms. But was a mid-term poll inevitable? Perhaps the government had sensed that it was. The net of corruption was rapidly closing in on the top Congress leadership.”
It was further pointed out that the opposition by its agitation against FDI had helped divert all attention from the probes into corruption. It was also pointed out that even if the government’s horribly tainted image due to corruption might deny it an election victory, its prospects would considerably improve because there was much it could say in favour of FDI to the voter and influential segments of the population.
In this tangled web there is a sub-plot.
It may be noted that Miss Banerjee, the BJP and indeed the entire opposition to FDI is single mindedly demanding the removal of the Prime Minister. Will the PM’s removal gladden or sadden Mrs. Sonia Gandhi and Mr. Rahul Gandhi? If forcibly removed from office the PM could become the convenient scapegoat for all that went wrong with the government. A successive UPA government could start on a clean slate. It is certainly curious that while the PM is accused of being remote controlled by Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, and is rightly being accused of abdicating his ministerial responsibility, there is not a single criticism by the opposition of Mrs. Gandhi who allegedly calls all the shots.
However a very recent event changed that. And it suggests that there is indeed a silent struggle between 7 Race Course Road and 10 Janpath. Mr. Narendra Modi has accused the Congress of spending Rs. 1880 crores on the many foreign trips undertaken by Mrs. Sonia Gandhi. He quoted a Right to Information (RTI) application that was forwarded to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The RTI applicant claimed total ignorance about the information. When this was pointed out to Mr. Modi he said that he stood by his information. If Mrs. Sonia Gandhi personally contradicted him, he would apologize.
What gives Mr. Modi confidence? If he is right, from where did he get his information? Could it be any other source except the PMO? It might also be recalled that earlier the PM had reportedly complained to Mrs. Sonia Gandhi that the flawed coal allotment licenses were issued by the Coal Ministry under pressure of her Political Secretary, Mr. Ahmed Patel. This information was leaked to the media. The best compromise between the PM and Mrs. Gandhi rests upon a mid-term poll. The PM could campaign for his policy agenda. Mrs. Sonia Gandhi would be relieved by the diversion of public attention from her party’s involvement in corruption.
Well, now isn’t everything falling into place?
Miss Banerjee is already talking of a mid-term poll. Mr. Karunanidhi has announced his party’s support to her demand against FDI. The ball has been placed in Mr. Mulayam Singh’s court to force a mid-term poll. And the great, big, all pervading, nationwide debate on foreign investment on which the entire general election could be fought is all set to commence. If that comes about everybody will be the gainer. Corruption will cease to be the issue. Mr. Mulayam Singh with cases of disproportionate assets hanging over his head would be happy. Top BJP leaders with close links to those accused of corruption being exposed, including Mr. Manoj Jayaswal, would also be happy. Miss Banerjee with her inflated image as the flag bearer of the revolt against FDI would be the electoral gainer. And with her enhanced strength in the event of a mid-term poll it should not surprise if a dramatic post-poll realignment of political forces revives her links with the Congress.
Most important of all the top leaders of the Congress will be happy. The PM will be happy because he will go out with honour given a fighting chance to introduce FDI. Mrs. Sonia Gandhi will be happy if her party is saved the crippling results of convictions in corruption cases. Political observers say that corruption will never cease to be an issue. Of course it will not cease to be an electoral issue. It will simply cease to be an issue that leads to criminal convictions and prison terms for top politicians. Taunts and smears during political campaigning is all that corruption will entail. Recall Bofors.
Now it remains to be seen how the script finally unfolds. The Congress has already announced a huge rally on October 28th at Delhi ’s Ram Lila Maidan to be addressed by the PM and Mrs. Sonia Gandhi. The leaders have announced intention to explain the advantages of FDI.
Will that be the first shot fired for a mid-term poll campaign?