Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The ugly race for numbers

Short of fist-fights, a lot of action is happening on the national political theatre. And the frenzy with which our neta log have started hitting out at each other, the days in the run-up to the trust vote in the Lok Sabha, are bound to turn murkier.

The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) on its part has pulled out all the plugs and unleashed an army of spokespersons to “inform” the people of this country that the Indo-US civil nuclear deal is going to be really good for them. Never mind the price of onions or tomatoes; they need nuclear power and badly too!

The Left, on the other hand, particularly the CPI (M) General Secretary and the conductor of the entire anti-nuke deal orchestra, Mr Prakash Karat, has further hardened its resolve to ensure the defeat of the UPA Government in the trust vote scheduled for July 22. And so we had Mr Karat driving down to the BSP chief, Ms Mayawati’s house in Delhi on Sunday for a tete-a-tete on the crucial need for her to manage floor co-ordination with the Left parties to ensure the defeat of the UPA Government.

Ms Mayawati, on her part, was most cordial to her visitor and promised all support. She is, of course, livid at the CBI raking up once again the issue of her disproportionate assets. Clearly, it has been done at the behest of the Samajwadi Party duo, Mr Mulayam Singh, and Mr Amar Singh, and the timing leaves much to be desired. But even though it is clearly a case of vendetta, what would get the goat of ordinary Indians struggling hard to make the two ends meet during these very tough times is the mind-boggling number of properties — land, houses, villas, etc, that Ms Mayawati and her relatives own, not to mention the various bank accounts, fixed deposits and other investments.
Big business and politics

Anyway, returning to the political climax towards which the country is headed in a week’s time, and the manner in which the CBI suddenly woke up to the fact that Ms Mayawati’s assets are disproportionate to her known sources of income, tells us once again that in the murky world of politics, nothing really changes when it comes to arm-twisting tactics, even though the principal players keep changing.

The only difference is that our politicians seem to get more and more brazen; and, of course, this time around, the people at the helm have had to deal with astute politicians such as Mr Mulayam Singh who can drive a really hard bargain. He and Mr Amar Singh would have certainly bargained very hard, and put in the caveat that unless they see results before the trust vote day of July 22, their votes could not be taken for granted.

Along with targeting Ms Mayawati, Mr Amar Singh has openly stated that the SP has asked the UPA Government to levy windfall profit tax on private oil refining companies; the target is obviously Reliance Industries headed by Mr Mukesh Ambani, the elder brother of Mr Anil Ambani who is extremely close to Mr Amar Singh. There have also been reports that the SP leader has asked the Prime Minister to bring about rapprochement between the two estranged brothers.

All this only goes to reiterate the thin dividing line between big business and politics.

Returning to the trust vote of July 22, while all the principal protagonists — the Congress(I), the BJP and the Left — are presenting a confident picture of how the vote will go their way, with each passing day, the smaller parties are changing their stance with a new statement. The Telengana Rashtra Samithi, for instance, has obviously taken a cue from the SP leaders’ book and announced a series of bandhs and protests in the coming week to force the UPA Government’s hand in coming out with a clear commitment on the party’s one-point agenda — a separate Telengana state.

The TRS President, Mr K. Chandrasekhar Rao, has unequivocally said that the UPA could get his party’s three votes only if the Union Cabinet came out with a resolution announcing the formation of a separate Telengana. And, this should be before July 22. When the stakes are so high, as they obviously are for the UPA Government to survive and not be forced to seek a fresh mandate from the people in tough times such as these, the voices making demands are strident too. The clear message from Mr Rao is: My need is today!

But the one politician who might be even more difficult to get on the UPA’s side is former Prime Minister and Chief of the Janata Dal (S), Mr Deve Gowda. The Congress leadership knows only too well that he can effortlessly run circles around anybody and, hence, while bringing him on board would increase the comfort level of the Congress-led UPA, the strategy to win the vote of confidence does not really bank on Mr Gowda’s support. If it comes — in the form of three valuable votes — it will be a bonus, seems to be the thinking.

The Shiromani Akali Dal has finally ended speculation that it will vote in favour of the UPA Government just because the Prime Minsiter, Mr Manmohan Singh, is a Sikh. “Don’t drag me into non-issues like the prime minister being a Sikh,” the Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal chided reporters in Jalandhar and said that since SAD is a constituent of the NDA, it will go along with it on the trust vote.

Both Mr Pranab Mukherjee and Mr Karat have met the National Conference chief, Mr Omar Abdullah, to seek his party’s two votes on the deal. But the NC is yet to disclose its stand on the issue, though there are indications that it might go along with the UPA. Allying with the BJP in the past cost the party its government in Jammu and Kashmir and with the PDP and Congress parting ways in the State, who knows if a different political alignment might crop up there. Anyway, the NC had emerged the single-largest party in the last assembly election and had opted to sit in the Opposition then. With the State already in election mode, a deal with the NC might cost the Congress dear in J&K politics, just as it threatens to do in Uttar Pradesh. Well, the Congress leadership will have to weigh the pros and cons of saving the UPA Government of today by sacrificing the party’s prospects in the future in important states such as UP and J&K.
Interesting polarisation

On the other side of the divide, Mr Karat is busy getting as many allies in his stable as he possibly can to ensure that the UPA Government loses the trust vote — after all he has said from various platforms that he will not allow the nuclear deal to go through. And he is not to be taken lightly. Mr Pranab Mukherjee who met the veteran Marxist leader, Mr Jyoti Basu, on Sunday to brief him about the parting of ways between the UPA Government and the Left, made no bones about proclaiming: “We consider Jyoti Basu, along with Harkishen Singh Surjeet, the architects of the Left’s coalition with the UPA.” This was an obvious effort to snub Mr Karat, who appears even more determined to defeat the UPA on the floor of the Lok Sabha than the BJP!

Unwittingly, and notwithstanding the Left leaders’ shrill statements, denying that they will have any kind of a floor co-ordination with the BJP while voting against the confidence motion in the House, the fact remains that the nuke deal will manage to achieve what no recent Indian election has. There will be a distinct division of all kinds of political groups with diverse and dramatically opposite ideologies, for and against the nuke deal. So essentially we will see two big blocks in Parliament on July 22 on the nuke issue.

If our politicians can manage to pull off such an impossible coup in the next election — immediately, in November or next year — we can be spared the painful prospect of seeing fractured verdicts and the hectic horse-trading that has followed in the last few elections.

But for the time being, horse-trading is very much the favourite sport. The figure, did you ask? Just choose any digit, put any number of zeroes that your imagination can muster, and seek the price. Provided you (or your friend, relative or whoever) have a vote that counts!

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