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|June 13, 2001||
T V R Shenoy
The Amma-Didi factor
It is called the 'silly season' in England -- when Parliament is not in session, most people are on summer holiday, and reporters under pressure to fill columns gratefully print any old rubbish that comes their way. Well, summer arrives earlier in India than it does in more northern climes.
With the prime minister recovering from surgery and several of his colleagues flying abroad, there is little hard news. Which is why speculation reigns supreme, the hottest topic being that Jayalalitha and Mamata Banerjee are rejoining the National Democratic Alliance.
Of course, anything is possible in Indian politics. Therefore, let us not dismiss it without discussion.
Let us begin with Jayalalitha. Does anyone recall why she broke the alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party and the other parties?
There was some talk of Vishnu Bhagwat (remember him?). But the true reason was that the prime minister was refusing to dismiss the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam ministry in Chennai.
Obviously that is no longer a bone of contention. But why would the BJP break its partnership with the DMK? Or, for that matter, why would Jayalalitha snap links with the Congress, the CPI-M and the rest of her pre-election partners?
The AIADMK chief's disenchantment with the Congress began as early as 1999, immediately after Sonia Gandhi encouraged her to break with the BJP. It started, in fact, as soon as the Congress president announced that she was thinking in terms of a pure Congress administration. But is that reason enough to rejoin the NDA?
Well, not necessarily, but it certainly does no harm to keep all options open. Jayalalitha's predicaments did not end with the defeat of Karunanidhi and company. She still faces challenges from the judiciary, the Election Commission, and the Union government -- in precisely that order of difficulty.
Dealing with the judiciary and the Election Commission is a job for Jayalalitha's lawyers, and there is little that she herself can do. But she is trying her best to mend relations with the BJP.
This is a game that suits the ruling parties in both Delhi and Chennai. Jayalalitha wants to keep her partners in line. (The Congress and the Communists may dislike the fact that she is hobnobbing with the enemy, but they will keep their mouths shut as long as she does not cross over.) The BJP likes letting some of its noisier junior partners know that there are options open to it.
But will the BJP really jettison the DMK? Why would it? The DMK has been a faithful ally, and it still has a dozen members of Parliament in the Lok Sabha. Even if ethics are irrelevant in politics, it makes little sense to throw aboard an ally who has been faithful.
That last description could also apply to Ajit Kumar Panja. When the mercurial Mamata Banerjee quit both the ministry and the NDA, Panja was one of those who kept the faith with the BJP. And now here comes Mamata Banerjee demanding his head as her price for returning to the NDA.
To be brutally honest, this is nonsensical. Jayalalitha has proved that she retains her hold on the electors of Tamil Nadu; what exactly does Mamata Banerjee have to show?
She has earned the reputation -- a very well-deserved one, I should say -- of being whimsical, even immature. She wrecked the proposed mahajot [grand alliance] through her arrogance and lack of administrative skill. The party she founded on leaving the Congress never really existed outside Kolkata and its hinterland; the recent assembly polls demonstrate clearly that even those strongholds are under siege.
I mentioned Vishnu Bhagwat earlier; does anyone recall the issue -- 'excuse' would be a better word -- on which Mamata Banerjee left the NDA? She walked out demanding the resignation of George Fernandes over the Tehelka tapes scandal. Yet today there are rumours of the Trinamul Congress boss trying to build bridges with the former defence minister!
I must say that the lady has a very convenient memory. Though she is willing to patch up with the Samata Party leader, she is unwilling to negotiate with a man who was once one of her own trusted colleagues.
All of Mamata Banerjee's dreams of wresting power in Writers' Building have gone with the wind. She desperately wants to return to the Union Cabinet if only to demonstrate to the voters back home that she still counts for something. But if she comes back, so of course would those ministers who had left with her, wouldn't they? And this is the first of many obstacles.
Mamata Banerjee insists on the right to say which Trinamul Congress members of Parliament become ministers. It is an open secret that Ajit Kumar Panja shall not be one of them. That will be poor compensation for standing by the BJP when Mamata Banerjee was up to her antics.
Mamata Banerjee has failed to explain how the prodigal's return will improve the lot of the NDA. The only hope of defeating the Left Front was in a mahajot. The Congress has repeatedly stated that this is impossible. It makes more sense, then, for the BJP to put in some spadework in West Bengal on its own, and try to expand its own base.
Of course, there is always the possibility that the Samata Party itself will try to roll out the red carpet. It feels let down by the BJP over Manipur and may be willing to try a tit-for-tat.
The talk about Jayalalitha and the BJP is just that -- talk, without either side being terribly serious. Mamata Banerjee is more serious, but the only thing sillier than the silly season would be if she were taken seriously.
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