Part of this analysis appeared in DNA of June 20, 2011
Whatever happened to coalition compulsions that the PM lamented about?
It is surprising that with a mere 202 seats in Lok Sabha – of course, it is the single largest party – the Congress seems to entertain delusions of being in a majority. It is falling short of a simple majority by a substantial 74 seats in a house of 543 seats. And yet its leaders in the government seem to act and speak on the presumption that this is a Congress government. It is not. This is a Congress-led coalition government.
The fact that after more than two months the Congress core committee comprising party president Sonia Gandhi, prime minister Manmohan Singh, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, defence minister A.K.Antony, home minister P.Chidambaram and Congress president’s political secretary Ahmed Patel decide on Saturday that they should get the other parties involved in the consultation over the drafting of the Lokpal bill seems a blinkered decision.
The drafting of the contentious bill is being at the government level. The drafting committee comprising five ministers and five of the Anna Hazare team including Hazare himself has been set up by an executive order makes it clear that this is government affair, and the government is that of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA).
Of course, we never get to hear of the allies in the UPA unless there is a cabinet reshuffle, or the 2G spectrum spectrum scam where DMK members A.Raja, Kanimozhi and Dayanidhi Maran are being mentioned prominently in connection with investigations. The first two are already in the Tihar prison, under judicial custody.
But as a senior UPA leader had pointed to DNA, the Congress seems to believe that it is running a government of its own. Congress clearly is violating rather blatantly the so-called coalition dharma.
The decision to consult other parties should have been taken at the UPA level, and not that of the Congress. Mrs Sonia Gandhi is the UPA chairperson and she ought to have called a meeting of the UPA partners even before the government had set up the extraordinary committee for drafting The Lokpal bill, which is nothing but a loud tokenism of the fact that the Congress-led UPA facing a barrage of corruption charges wants to show that it is in the forefront of fighting corruption.
This is something that may not wash. A minority Congress which wants to take credit for combating corruption has to be more skillful in its political manouvres than it has been so far. Congress ministers must learn to speak for the UPA government and not for the Congress, and the governmental decisions have to be taken at the UPA level, and not at the Congress’ level.
It is also unfortunate that the UPA allies are only seen and not heard. The DMK would not have been visible but for the tumbling out of the 2G spectrum scam and the fortuitous Nira Radia tapes. The NCP of Mr Sharad Pawar is quiet and so is Trinamool Congress. Laloo Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal is supposed to be part of the UPA though not the UPA government, but it is lying low. The reason that Congress takes the allies for granted is quite simple. The DMK is interested only in Tamil Nadu issue, TMC is happy to be confined to West Bengal, add Mr Pawar’s party does not seem to look beyond Maharashtra. Unless the allies assert their presence and participate actively in the decision-making process, the single largest party takes over the mantle of governance for itself.
This is not peculiar to the UPA. Even in the time of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), it was the BJP which was calling the shots in important matters like foreign affairs. The NDA partners showed no interest, and Mr Atal Bihari Vajapyee, his national security adviser Brajesh Mishra and ministers for external affairs Jaswant Singh and Yashwant Sinha decided on all the major questions with regard to India-Pakistan relations.
Today, it is prime minister Singh who takes the call on India-Pakistan issues with help from national security advisor Shiv Shankar Menon. Minister for External Affairs S.M.Krishna appears to be a mere spokesman for the prime minister in these matters.
Those who talk gravely about coalition politics, the coalition era, will have to take a close and serious look at how coalitions have been functioning in India, including the three decades old Left Front government in Kolkata which has just been voted out.
The Congress would not have landed the UPA is such a mess, including that of the increasingly farcical engagement with the Hazare team and the failed one with Ramdev, if only Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh had shown coalition courtesies. Running a coalition requires greater political maturity and the Congress does not have much of it. Congress leaders would agree that they are not good at coalitions and they like to go alone. Unfortunately, they do not have that luxury. They have to fall in the coalition line.
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