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Pedestrian politics

April 28, 2010

Whoever gave the BJP and other opposition parties, most notably the Left parties, the bright idea of moving a Cut Motion in the Lok Sabha did a yeoman’s service to the ruling UPA combine. The Cut Motions moved by the opposition has no precedence in recent history. The issue put forward by the NDA and the Left was that of price rise and it was therefore moved to thwart the passage of the Finance Bill in the parliament.

There is no doubt that price rise is an emotive issue and a very pertinent one at that in a poor country like ours, but to hope that such an issue will see the opposition stand together and perhaps wean away a few from the ruling coalition was perhaps too ambitious. Perhaps, the Young Turks of the BJP led by Sushma Swaraj who is the leader of the opposition in the Lower House thought that such a move would put the government on the back foot. The Left with a shaky government in Kolkota thought that they would steal a march over the Congress-Trinmool combine and any debacle in the parliament will have repercussions in the state politics. Both were wholly out of tune with reality.

The proposed Cut Motions moved by the BJP and the Left boiled down to a veritable no-confidence motion against the ruling coalition government. That is how it would pan out – anyone with some exposure to parliamentary democracy would vouch for. And that is exactly what the opposition should have avoided at any cost. The present government is hardly ten months old. Any fall of the government would have resulted in a political instability in Delhi. With a little more than 100 seats in a House of 524, the BJP would have never been able to cobble a government. And no one wants another general election again. The small and big veered towards safety and while Laloo and Mulayam Singh abstained others voted against the Motion. The Cut Motions were defeated with a resounding vote against the Motion. These Motions benefitted every other party except the principal opposition party, the BJP and the Left combine.

Mulayam and Laloo again got a chance to reiterate their ‘secular’ credentials. Mulayam and Laloo were both just not ready to face elections. Both walked out and abstained from voting – in effect voting for the ruling coalition. Mayawati had done exceedingly well in the by-elections and Nitish Kumar is only getting stronger in Bihar. Laloo would like to wait for Nitish to make some mistake before he pounces on his chances in Patna. And Mulayam is not sure he can take on Mayawati as of now.

The IPL party – the NCP got a reprieve in that both Sharad Pawar and Prafull Patel were getting exposed in revelations after revelations unraveling their close links to the murky IPL affair. The Cut Motions helped them claw their way back into mainstream and the Congress will now limit the IPL probe to the ouster of Lalit Modi. The NCP was slipping but now they are back in the saddle.

For Mayawati, the Cut Motions could not have come at a more opportune time. The Damocles sword of the CBI inquiry into her disproportionate assets case will now go slow. The lady gave a lengthy statement condemning the Congress and lambasting the ruling coalition on the price front only to end with the hackneyed ‘fight against communal forces’ tirade and declaring her newfound love for the ruling Congress led UPA coalition.  This has been a Godsend as far as Mayawati is concerned.

The total ineptness and lack of planning of the BJP and other opposition parties comes to the fore when it was revealed that their ally, the Jharakhand Mukti Morcha’s Shibu Soren who is heading a government in Ranchi with BJP’s support, voted against the Motions. It appears that the BJP had not done their homework and had not sounded their allies and the probable supporters of such a Motion. Were they hoping that the price rise issue is so emotive that all will converge against the government? Should they not have made a head count before embarking on a Motion that was to become a matter of their prestige in the political arena? The fallout of these Cut Motions is that the BJP has lost a state where they had a government running with their support. Soren, it appears had already made a pact with the Congress and when he voted against the BJP led Motion in the parliament, the BJP had no option but to withdraw support against the man. A silly Cut Motion has cost the BJP a state. What will you call this but pedestrian politics?

There is a simple rule of the thumb – no one wants to get into another election before the tenure of the House. Besides the BJP just does not have the numbers to challenge the ruling Congress combine. I guess even the BJP MP’s must have taken a sigh of relief. It is with much effort that they enter the hallowed portals of the parliament – to go back and fight it out again would be riding ones luck once too often. There was no way anyone else could have formed a government. The TINA (There Is No Alternative) factor played out again and smaller parties converged towards the ruling alliance. This should have been anticipated by the opposition. A hartal in 12 states does not topple a government at the center. Besides, the BJP and the Left did not contact each and every MP personally, or else they would not have been left with egg on their faces. In contrast, the Congress did their homework well and their floor management was much better. Pranab Mukherjee went to great lengths to ensure that the Cut Motions were rejected decisively. And that is what happened. The opposition’s contention that the Cut Motions were to bring into focus the issue of price rise just does not make sense as there are other ways and means and such a Cut Motion is in effect testing the strength of the ruling coalition. That is no way to bring an issue into the national limelight. There are other better ways and our Left friends know them all. This coming together of the Left and the BJP also does not make sense from the BJP’s point of view as Left parties are only going to further contract in the months to come.

The complete annihilation of opposition in this ludicrous Cut Motions has given a new strength to the Manmohan Singh government. Now they can play roughshod over many a bills and not just the Finance Bill. They may even gain a state if Shibu Soren makes a pact with them. Mayawati has distanced herself from the BJP now and while she is not cozying up with the Congress, it will take some effort for the BJP to woo her in future. In all, this has been a disaster for the BJP and the Left Front. This was bad politics. The opposition is weaker than before, and the Congress look stronger than they really are. Sushma Swaraj got this all wrong. I guess Advani played along and wanted to see what the young guns in the party can do. Precious little, Mr. Advani – and a man of your experience should know when to put ones foot down. This was one instance when you should have stopped the young Gadkari brigade to do as they wish. This is as much your defeat as that of the party.

Update 29.04.2010: The Shibu Soren episode is getting murkier and murkier. According to Yashwant Sinha of the BJP who also comes from Jharkhand, Shibu Soren received a call from one of the heads of a ‘government agencies’ after which his stance changed. He came to the house right before the voting, and his body language was that of a man in distress. He voted against the motion. Evidently, the government has some knowledge of his misdeeds (he has several cases of corruption and of murder against him) and the government used that to good use.

Now he has changed his mind and is saying that he voted against the motion by mistake. His son Hemant is wooing the BJP while the father has opened channels with the Congress. His son Hemant Soren has ambitions of becoming the Chief Minister of Jharkhand. The BJP has declared that they have withdrawn support but have not yet given their withdrawal of support in writing to the Governor. Both the BJP and the Congress are trying to get the best bargain with the Sorens. The best thing would be to dump this unholy father-son duo and for once the BJP and the Congress should come together to form the government. But then the raison-de-etre of their existence will be under cloud.

It is also well known that the Sorens have close links with the Maoists and have refused to undertake any major offensive against them in their state. That has miffed both the BJP and the Congress. It will be interesting as to how this saga ends.

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