The Left Front knows how to bark. Will it ever bite? Starting tomorrow for a whole week it will launch a nationwide protest movement against the government's policies that created the price rise and public hardship. If government policies are so bad why not withdraw support? The Left leaders say they await the Congress response to their note of dissent delivered in the last UPA coordination committee meeting. Only if the government heeds them will they reconsider their stand.
But isn't the government already heeding them? Mrs. Gandhi met with senior party functionaries to defuse the price rise. She followed up by meeting all Congress chief ministers for the same reason. The Prime Minister discovered that economic reforms are benefiting only five per cent of the population. He said India cannot blindly follow the west in embracing globalization. This was a new tune from the PM! Petroleum Minister Mr. Murli Deora once again wrote to all chief ministers urging them to reduce sales tax on fuel to help contain price rise. What more could the government immediately do to persuade the Left that its complaints had registered?
And yet, the Left is launching its nationwide protest. Why? Is it merely buying time? The price rise may not be the real reason for its protest. It is evidently preparing a poll issue and cobbling together an alliance, should circumstances compel a snap poll. The Left has succeeded in roping in other regional parties including the TDP to join this week's protest. Until now the TDP was with BJP. What more can the protest immediately extract from the government than it has already done? Even with the best of intentions, how can the government improve economic conditions in the short term? The Left leaders know this. Yet they persist. They persist because they have to lay the foundation for a contingency plan. They want to create favorable conditions in case they need to pull down the UPA government. That is why the bluster.
There is a political grapevine. As word gets around, politicians know from each other what's going to happen. Perhaps that is why BSP leader Miss Mayawati has repeatedly urged her workers to prepare not just for the UP assembly poll but also for a mid-term general election? And perhaps that is why Mr. VP Singh and a motley group of parties are striving to help the Congress? They are not only isolating Mr. Mulayam Singh for the UP poll. They have also announced their own nationwide movement in favor of immediate Mandal reservations in all institutes of higher learning and in private industry through a new Bill in the forthcoming Parliament session. Mr. Singh wisely observed that while parties divide people, movements unite them. The Congress itself does not lag behind. The Minister for Social Justice, Ms. Meira Kumari, has repeatedly demanded that reservation on basis of caste must be introduced in all private industry. The minister's proximity to Mrs. Sonia Gandhi leaves little doubt about the inspiration of this demand. Mr. VP Singh's effort to help the Congress party after earlier bringing down a Congress government is understandable. His unflinching loyalty to the late Indira Gandhi, and the late Sanjay Gandhi during the Emergency, was marred only by misunderstanding arising from failure of communication with the late Rajiv Gandhi. His sentiment for his parent party must therefore be deep ' which should make understandable his possible desire to revive family links with the Congress.
In the midst of this turbulence, how could the DMK be left behind? With 16 Lok Sabha MPs of its own and 22 in its alliance, Mr. Karunanidhi threatened to withdraw support from the UPA government. He was protesting against the government's decision to divest 10 percent of its shares from the public sector Neyveli Lignite Corporation. After the DMK announcement Mr. Sitaram Yechury gave gratuitous advice to the media. He said DMK was merely playing safe coalition politics and there was no danger of realignment of the government in the centre. If nothing else, Mr. Yechury's intervention did suggest close coordination between the DMK and the Left Front. Just a week earlier Mr. Karunanidhi had softened his stand on the same issue. Why the sudden switch and hardening of stand? Meanwhile, the PMO spokesperson predictably and quickly announced that all divestment decisions had been put on hold.
The government's policy drift has been continuous. What, then, brought about the critical change in the attitude of the UPA allies? The change was brought about by something that none of these MPs cares to talk about. CNN/IBN reported that President Kalam had decided not to sign the Office of Profit Bill when Parliament sent it back to him without amendment. The President, according to the news channel, had decided to delay signing it. The news channel broadcast this news explicitly and repeatedly. There was no contradiction from Rashtrapati Bhawan. And there was complete silence over it among political parties. Legal luminaries did descend before cameras to solemnly aver that by so doing the President would violate the spirit of the Constitution. Others recalled an earlier precedent when President Zail Singh had delayed signing a Bill for so long that eventually Parliament abandoned it. My own guess is that if the TV report is correct, the President would seek reassurance from the Supreme Court or other legal authority before signing the Bill. He would be justified in doing this. If the Bill becomes Act it will almost certainly be challenged in the Supreme Court. If once again, after the Bihar assembly dissolution fiasco, the President is found to have signed a Bill declared unconstitutional, his position would become untenable.
The bottom line is that every possibility exists of the Election Commission unseating many honorable Members of Parliament before the new proposed law to protect them takes effect. The politicians therefore would closely watch developments on this front without uttering a word of comment. When they are certain that they will be unseated, they could topple the government to pre-empt their removal from parliament. Instead of contesting over 80 by-elections why not go the whole hog? Voters would not like to see MPs deciding to topple a government because they have been unseated for illegally holding offices of profit. So, let there be suitable poll issues! It is reservation in the case of the Congress and Mr. VP Singh's group. It is scrapping economic reforms in the case of Left Front and DMK. Nothing may happen. The President and EC may sort out the crisis. If they don't, topple the government! Although the final outcome may stun them.