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Anti-UPA class has math, no chemistry
February 17, 2005
Politicians love to talk of how they -- and they alone -- represent the 'common man.' More often, however, they are busy mouthing the latest gossip spun by urban rumour mills. Lok Janshakti Party President Ram Vilas Paswan was doing precisely that when he accused the Rashtriya Janata Dal of conspiring with the Bharatiya Janata Party to topple the United Progressive Alliance. Paswan was speaking in the context of the Bihar election, and yet, believe it or not, there are enough people in Delhi -- not least in the Congress -- who take this theory quite seriously.
The fear is rooted in the fact that the Congress has barely half the seats required for a majority in the Lok Sabha (defined as 50 percent plus one, namely 273). Its government rests on the fact that many more small parties were willing to support the Congress rather than the BJP. So what happens if all the smaller groups -- meaning neither Congress nor BJP members of Parliament -- get together?
The arithmetic of this Lok Sabha is such that they will still be short of a majority, but it will be a different story should the BJP choose to offer support from outside.
Paswan, who is temporarily in the Congress camp, is trying to win Sonia Gandhi's backing by creating a bogeyman. The logic is that Lalu Prasad Yadav will blame the Congress if the RJD fails to win a majority in Bihar, becoming just angry enough to woo the BJP leaders. Paswan has thus raised the spectre of the fabled Third Front. His thesis has received credibility of a sort because the Left Front has independently been grumbling about the manner in which Congress ministers are discarding the principles of the Common Minimum Programme.
Prakash Karat, who seems destined to succeed Harkishen Singh Surjeet as general secretary of the Communist Party of India-Marxist, menacingly mutters it should not be the Left Front's exclusive responsibility to keep this ministry in power.
So, is there any credibility to the rumour that the BJP might do what the Congress did in 1996 -- offer support to a motley crew -- in order to keep the Congress away? Not really, it is hard to see how the BJP could gain from such shenanigans; the party is still in the process of rebuilding its base in the wake of the last general election and needs to concentrate on those efforts.
No, if the UPA breaks up it will only be because of the internal contradictions implicit in such a group. Let me go further, should the coalition fall it will be because of the Left Front rather than Lalu Prasad Yadav.
At the end of the day, it is the three score seats held by the CPI-M and its fellow travellers which are keeping Dr Manmohan Singh in Race Course Road. The strain is clearly beginning to tell.
The prime minister and the finance minister have stated at various times and in different fora that the Budget will continue the process of economic reform. This necessarily involves throwing the public sector open to competition, or even selling off public sector undertakings altogether.
Should it be necessary -- and foreign investors will make it so -- the government must also deal with labour reforms. Add the fact that assembly election is due in 2006 in Kerala -- where the major adversaries are the Congress and CPI-M -- and you have a recipe for an explosion.
How far shall the Communists go in expressing their disapproval? After all, it is farcical to continue supporting the Congress in Parliament while denouncing its policies on, say, foreign direct investment on the street. Beyond a point, people will simply stop taking the Left seriously, laughing at its hypocrisy. Do the Marxists have the courage to go in for the kill rather than wound?
I do not think so! Much as the CPI-M dislikes the current arrangement, it shudders even more at the thought of joining hands with the BJP even if neither party is officially in government.
Nor do the Marxists want to fight a mid-term election. Through a combination of luck and strategy the Left Front has more seats today than in any other Lok Sabha. There is little chance of gaining seats outside its traditional areas of influence. Ideology be damned, the Left Front MPs won't give up their perks!
Lastly, what is the likelihood of all the smaller parties coming together? Even if you assume that the BJP and the CPI-M are idiots enough to support from outside, can you actually see a ministry where Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati must sit together?
Forget all about Paswan's bombast and the dark mumbling of the Left, the United Progressive Alliance ministry is safe for at least a year if not more. The mathematics of a Third Front may be correct but the chemistry is completely wrong!