Ides of March? Knives are Out for Budget Session

In silent fashion, the feeling has spread that there could be a mid-term poll in 2006. Why this feeling arose is difficult to pinpoint. In his press conference the Prime Minister, unnecessarily and without relevance, said that his government would complete its full term. This was interpreted in some circles as a traditional ploy to throw opposition off the scent. The only concrete announcement in the press conference was the PM's decision to set up the Sixth Pay Commission. This, too, raised eyebrows. It was not expected from an economist of Dr.  Manmohan Singh's eminence. In the view of most economists a new pay commission at this time makes little sense. But the announcement would go a long way in creating a feel-good mood ' exploitable for electoral advantage by the Congress.

To this, add the Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme which is already under implementation. Together, these measures add up to a tidy package for winning over voters. Concern for the voter appeared also to be uppermost in the PM's decision to set up a committee for studying the Ordinance drafted by the Delhi government to forestall the demolition of illegal buildings. The proposed Ordinance legalizes all pre-2006 constructions in residential areas. The committee will submit its report after three months. That gives the government breathing time. Also, it lowers panic among voters.

Relations between Congress and the Left, too, have not been exactly rosy. The airport modernization programme, the nuclear agreement with the US, the Iran vote and several economic issues have compelled the government to view the Left as a nuisance. Congress spokesmen, in conversations with the media, have of late adopted an uncharacteristically hard tone while referring to the Left.

All this has created perhaps the impression that a mid-term poll is contemplated. At the last AICC meeting held in Hyderabad Congress leaders emphasized the need to win a majority on the party's own for giving India a stable government. If Mr Rahul Gandhi is to play the role most Congressmen want him to, this is the kind of miracle that needs to be delivered. With the opposition in disarray, could the Congress gamble and bid for the jackpot?

The opposition has good reason to worry. And none in the opposition has better reason to worry than Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav. For the Congress to make a major comeback, its need to recapture UP is paramount. In other words, Mr Mulayam Singh must be demolished and Congress must replace him. Mr Mulayam Singh's need to pre-empt the Congress by overthrowing it at the centre has acquired therefore desperate urgency.

Regardless of what actually happened in the phone-tapping case involving Mr Amar Singh, leaders of the Samajvadi Party (SP) are in no doubt that the Congress is out to destroy both Mr Amar Singh and Mr Mulayam Singh. Old cases against Mr Mulayam Singh have been re-activated with a vengeance. Directly and indirectly Ms Mayawati is being encouraged. By current reckoning she is electorally the front-runner in UP. For the SP therefore it is a do-or-die situation. Mr Mulayam Singh decided to do something.

The SP leader announced his intention to table a no-confidence motion in the Budget session starting tomorrow. He said he would make the government's vote against Iran in the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) the issue. But the Left parties threw cold water on the proposal. According to latest reports, Mr Mulayam Singh therefore decided to retreat. But wheels move within wheels. Mr Mulayam Singh would do nothing to displease the Left. But what if the ball is passed on to the BJP? Does or does not Mr Mulayam Singh have a covert understanding with the BJP?

The RSS weekly, Organizer, recently published an article stating that the BJP must heed RSS advice for selecting allies. The article, for a start, advised the BJP to align with Mr Mulayam Singh. It may be recalled that RSS Chief Mr K Sudarshan visited Mr Mulayam Singh in his office some months ago. No satisfactory explanation was given for that unprecedented visit. Leaders of both the SP and BJP, including Mr Kalyan Singh who leads BJP in UP, lashed out against the proposal. That was natural. Both parties must posture suitably to keep their respective Muslim and Hindu constituencies intact till the next polls. But it should be recalled that not too long ago Mr Kalyan Singh was a close ally of Mr Mulayam Singh. If the BJP brought a no-confidence motion on the Iran issue, Mr Mulayam Singh naturally would have to support it.

The BJP for its part would undertake any move and pay any price to topple the government. It cannot be unaware that any government that might replace the UPA government would be an interim arrangement. A mid-term poll would be inevitable. In the event the BJP would willingly attempt to consolidate its alliances and extend outside support for the mid-term poll.

Last week BJP president Mr Rajnath Singh called for an all-party meet to discuss the Iran issue. He said: 'The foreign policy of the country is no longer independent. Neither Parliament nor the Opposition parties were taken into confidence on the Iran issue. There should be a debate on the issue in Parliament. A meeting of all parties should be convened.' This indicates that the Iran issue could figure in Parliament in a big way. So how would the Left react?

In the CPI-M Politburo meeting in Kolkata last weekend Mr Prakash Karat lashed out against the anti-people and authoritarian central government. So what was his remedy? He insisted that all major issues should be discussed in Parliament before government took action. This is not different from what Mr Rajnath Singh and the BJP are demanding. The leaders of the CPI-M have ruled out withdrawal of support to the UPA government and discounted the possibility of any alternative emerging. However, events can take a curious turn.

In three months state assembly elections will be held in West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry and Assam. The CPI-M has a major stake in West Bengal and Kerala. If the Iran policy snowballs in Parliament into a substantive issue, how will the CPI-M vote? Can it afford to alienate the Muslim vote before the state assembly elections? The Muslim vote counts in West Bengal. It is crucial in Kerala. As things are, pre-election tension has created a divide among the CPI-M leaders. The Kerala state unit wants an alliance with the Congress rebel group led by Mr K Karunakaran. This was supported by Mr Jyoti Basu. Mr Karat and others ruled out the proposal. Time will tell how the party actually decides when the polls are held.

CPI-M leaders say that there is no alternative to the UPA government at present. But what if, through miscalculation or accident, the government falls? No MP would like an immediate mid-term poll. If the BJP extends outside support would CPI-M refuse to participate in the government? In the unlikely event of the UPA government falling, a compromise candidate for Prime Minister would be sought. Would not the natural choice for that be Lok Sabha Speaker Mr Somnath Chatterji? Mr Chatterji's father was a pillar of the Hindu Mahasabha. One can only speculate how the Sangh Parivar would view Somnathji's further elevation.

Of course, nothing may happen eventually. The UPA government might merrily continue for its whole term. But the present does appear to be a period of great flux. The only certainty in these unusual times is that nothing is certain.    


More by :  Dr. Rajinder Puri

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