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Pawar has smacked Congress in the face
June 08, 2006
Three-and-a-half months ago, I foresaw that the Congress was inviting trouble by taking former Shiv Sena leader Narayan Rane into its fold. If I may quote from what I wrote in February: 'There is no immediate danger to the Vilasrao Deshmukh regime in Maharashtra... But it is certain that both the Shiv Sena and the BJP would have no ideological qualms about welcoming Pawar.'
I added, 'His (Narayan Rane's) ambition depends on proving his utility to Sonia Gandhi, chiefly by bringing the Konkan region back into the Congress orbit. But in doing so he is stepping on the toes of the Nationalist Congress Party.' And I ended: 'There will be, I venture to predict, no immediate repercussions. But the fun will start when the elections are over in Bengal and Tamil Nadu.'
Less than a month after the election results came out, amused Mumbaikars witness Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party joining hands with the BJP and the Shiv Sena.
The cause is to support the election of Rahul Bajaj to the Rajya Sabha. The veteran industrialist is undoubtedly an excellent candidate, and given the numbers he should undoubtedly beat the Congress's Avinash Pandey.
(Did the Congress go out of its way to select a nonentity, whose loss wouldn't make too much of a splash?)
But the real story isn't that Rahul Bajaj is dipping a toe in politics, it is that Sharad Pawar has smacked the Congress in the face.
Sonia Gandhi Pvt Ltd is ill placed to mutter about 'betrayal'. Some time ago, Narayan Rane persuaded the Congress high command that he could get four Congressmen elected to the Maharashtra Legislative Council. This could be done only by defeating one of Sharad Pawar's men, something that Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh conveyed to Delhi. Margaret Alva, the All India Congress Committee general secretary in charge of the state, snubbed Deshmukh and backed Rane.
Pawar has now paid the Congress back in its own coin, one Upper House seat for another. (Although a Vidhan Parishad seat can't be compared with one in the Rajya Sabha of course!)
But let us delve a little farther. If this story isn't about Rahul Bajaj, nor is it about Sharad Pawar serving notice on the Congress. The true story is about the Congress's failure in managing coalitions. This is, in fact, the third time that a coalition partner has broken with the Congress over elections, and each ally has dared to act just a little more brazenly than his predecessor.
In Bihar the Congress was caught between duelling allies, Lalu Prasad Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal and Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party.
M Karunanidhi took that process farther down the road, telling the Congress that it would have to support him and his Dravid Munnetra Kazhagham during the assembly polls, then ensuring that not a single Congressman would enter his ministry.
Sharad Pawar has now taken an additional step, openly joining hands with the 'communal forces'. Wasn't keeping the BJP and its allies out of power, both in Delhi and in Mumbai, the only reason for the Congress and the NCP joining hands in the first place?
These are not the only visible fractures in the United Progressive Alliance.
Five days ago as I write, Sonia Gandhi was forced to summon Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad to Delhi.
The reason was the growing tension between the Congress and the People's Democratic Party. The latter, like Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party, was founded by a former Congressman.
The shared history, in both cases, serves to drive the Congress and its partners apart rather than bring them together. Both the Nationalist Congress Party and the People's Democratic Party are under pressure to prove that they are something more than Congress clones.
The same story is seen in Andhra Pradesh. The Congress came to power because it forged an alliance with the Telangana Rashtra Samiti. The very name, Telangana Rashtra Samiti, tells the world that its purpose is to partition the existing state of Andhra Pradesh. The Congress fudged the issue both before and after the 2004 election, fearing a backlash in Rayalseema and Coastal Andhra (the other principal divisions in the state). This has led to frequent bitter spats, none of which do anything for the image of the United Progressive Alliance.
No matter how sincerely the Congress pursues, for instance, the Pulichintala Irrigation Project, the calls for Telangana aren't going away.
All these are symptoms rather than the disease itself. With the BJP in such disarray, the Congress should have seized the opportunity to woo back disaffected voters. Instead, for reasons best known to party managers, the Congress has chosen to cannibalise voters from its own allies. (And I haven't even mentioned the Left Front, which is not a member of the United Progressive Alliance!)
There is absolutely no possibility of the BJP, staggering as it is thanks to its own self-inflicted wounds, doing any damage to the Congress. But who needs an Opposition when you have men like Narayan Rane eager to push Sharad Pawar's nose out of joint? And consequences be damned!
I believe the Congress regime can last its term up to 2009 if it wants. But if it consumes its energies in this manner, annoying its own allies left and right, it will lack the political strength to deliver good government.
Follow-up: Reader 'Shiva' commented: 'I disagree with you in the statement that there would be a shortage of teachers in India, resulting from the exodus of teachers in the near future. Taking the case of IT, many experienced professionals and students have left their Indian jobs for better paying jobs elsewhere. Is India in dearth of IT professionals today?'
Response: Actually, yes there is a lacuna, and it is one of the things that scares me. Here are two citations: Both NASSCOM and Microsoft agree that only a quarter of the software graduates fresh out of college are any good. This leaves Indian software giants with two options: set up their own colleges, or tap sources outside India. When TCS set up its office in Shanghai, China, its press note said it would 'collaborate with the local universities of repute in research and development.' How long shall it be before the others follow?
T V R Shenoy