Nuke Deal, Religion May Push India
Into Early Election
A strange cocktail of science and religion may be edging India towards an early general election that no one wants and which pundits say can only lead to another hung parliament - and more political uncertainty.
Political sources and analysts are convinced that elections are inevitable following an unending dispute between the government and its communist allies over the India-US nuclear deal and the latest but separate row over a shipping canal that has outraged Hindu nationalist groups.
Amid fears that it may be reduced to a minority in the 545-seat parliament, the Congress, which heads the ruling multi-party United Progressive Alliance (UPA), is busy asking itself if it should go for a snap poll or not.
Until recently, say Congress sources, the party was more or less certain it should, capitalizing as it was on business and middle class support against its Left parties that have made the government's life difficult by their opposition to the nuclear deal.
Now that a raging controversy has erupted over a government affidavit in the Supreme Court questioning the existence of Hindu god Ram, an affidavit it hurriedly withdrew following public furore, the Congress is not sure what a fresh election would lead to.
An analyst who prepares confidential election reports for the Congress has his fingers tightly crossed.
"The Congress-CPI-M (Communist Party of India-Marxist) spat has become too serious to get resolved," the analyst told IANS. "Many say they will ultimately make up, but I don't think so. I think the government is collapsing.
"Now people are talking about elections in February. If that happens, there will be another hung parliament."
According to the insider, in any new election the Congress will only marginally improve upon its tally of 145 seats of 2004 and the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) tally may dip only slightly from the 135 it won three years ago.
In normal times, Lok Sabha elections would be due in 2009. But with the CPI-M and three Left parties threatening to take back their legislative support if the government seals the nuclear deal, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has little choice: give in and lose credibility or take on the communists and face elections.
Until a week ago, the Congress seemed to be buoyant. No more so. Yet, many are egging the party to plunge into an electoral battle - now.
"If they are contemplating an election, the sooner they do it, the better," political analyst G.V.L. Narasimha Rao said. "The longer they stay in office amid this uncertainty, the more hurt they will get. They will lose heavily in terms of public support. People don't like uncertain regimes."
He admitted that the Congress had no choice but to go ahead with the nuclear deal. And that could only lead to parliamentary elections since the communists, with 60 seats, would withdraw support to the Congress-led government.
"In such a case, an early election is inevitable," Rao said.
"The only other via media is an alternative prime minister if he is deemed to be the source of the confrontation," he added. But Congress sources admit that is unlikely as he enjoys the confidence of Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
The only consolation the Congress has is the disunity in opposition ranks.
Although the Congress has lost a few allies from its coalition, the BJP has fared worse and is still embroiled in a leadership crisis. It almost came close to losing its oldest ally, the Shiv Sena.
The so-called Third Front has suffered huge cracks soon after pledging to keep equidistance from the Congress and the BJP. Some member parties are leaning towards the BJP while others want to shake hands with an aggressive Left bloc.
The communists are tipped to lose seats in a new election, nuclear deal or no nuclear deal. But the leftists are certain that no new government can take power without their blessings.
The one party that everyone feels would make gains is the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which stunned everyone this year by taking power on its own in Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous and politically key state.
Already, political parties are preparing themselves, at least psychologically, to return to the 670-million-strong electorate.
A Congress leader admitted: "We were confident until recently. But this controversy over Sethusamudram (shipping canal) project has changed everything. If the BJP rakes up Hindu passions, we will get hit."
Naturally, all eyes are on the upcoming Gujarat assembly elections.
If the BJP wins in the state, as most say it will, the Congress will be demoralised even though Gujarat does not necessarily reflect national mood. But if the Congress manages a victory, it is bound to call national elections without delay.
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M. R. Narayan Swamy
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