Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Friday the 13th a clear warning signal for the UPA

The green signal for the Congress-led coalition in 2004 and 2009 has turned to amber in 2011 and is certain to turn red in 2014

It is a political platitude that assembly elections are fought on local issues, and electoral victories and losses have to be understood in local contexts. This was quite evident in Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and Kerala.

The main reason for Congress's victory for a third successive term in Assam was not due to any spectacular performance by chief minister Tarun Gogoi. Even the peace deal with the insurgent United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) is transparent enough and the peace dividend is yet to be seen. It was due to the fact that there was no credible opposition party in the state. The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) had lost its regional flavour, its idealism and sense of purpose, however narrow, of the 1980s, that brought it into power. It has lost its way. The BJP, which should have emerged as an alternative in this eastern state was content to play second fiddle to AGP, which is both surprising and disappointing.

In West Bengal, the CPI-M led Left Front had to go. Like in the case of the Congress in neighbouring Assam, the Marxists remained in power in the state for three decades because the Congress had lost its moral fibre and organistaional sinews after Siddhartha Shankar Ray's pyrrihic victory over the Naxalites in the 1970s. The people never forgave the Congress for the atrocities by the Ray government. The Left Front did not turn West Begal into a proletarian paradise during its unduly long tenure. It was quite muddle-headed in its education and industrial policy, and its limited success on redistribution of agriculutral land is open to critical scrutiny. The stormtroopers culture of the hooldums in its sparty cadres at the street level is unflatteringly fascist. But it took the Left and left-minded intellectuals in Kolkata and in the rest of the country for Nandigram to happen to see the ugly side of the comrades.

The Tamil Nadu election went the typical Tamil Nadu way. The DMK and its allies had to lose, and the 2G spectrum scam had helped the AI-ADMK to give a quick burial to the political ambitions of the DMK's first family – chief minister Karunanidhi;s feuding sons, Stalin and Azhagiri. There was something inevitable in the triumph of Jayalalithaa, Karunanidhi's bete noire, given the inexorable logic of the negative politics of the two main Dravidian parties.

The Congress-led UDF's victory in Kerala was again logical however narrow the margin given Kerala's intensely casteist and communal politics behind the veil of the secular ideology of the Congress and the communists.

But those in Congress like Union finance minister Pranab Mukhrejee who can feel the political pulse of the country quite accurately could sense that there are signs of future gloom in these assembly verdicts. Mukherjee can see the defeat of the UPA in 2014 Lok Sabha election. That is why, he pleaded with the opposition parties to wait for their turn and not to create political chaos in the intervening period. It is as though like the soothesayers of ancient Rome, Mukherjee is reading the future in the entrails of the defeated parties of these assembly elections.

The man who seems to be blithely unaware of this political calamity waiting to happen is prime minister Manmohan Singh and his like-minded colleagues like home minister P.Chidambaram, minister for human resources development Kapil Sibal, minister of state for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh. They are enveloped in the clouds of optimism. The only man who sees the breowing storm on the horizon at the moment seems to be Mukherjee, and most probably party president Sonia Gandhi.

The BJP , the main opposition party, is in total disarray at the moment. There is no leadership and and no sense of direction. But it is clear that the people are going to vote out the UPA government of prime minister Singh. Most Congress leaders are not really worried and they even accept iots inevitability with a certain cynical calm.

It is the people who have to worry about the political future because there could be certain political instability if the opposition parties, including the BJP and the communists, do not get their act together. If no credible alternative emerges by 2014, a tired and wayward Congress will return to power and in the manner of West Bengal under the Marxists, the country will have to groan under the yoke of the political incompetency of a ruling party which survives by default.

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