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Why Congress needs chaos in UP
March 03, 2006
The Union Budget is supposed to be a map showing the way ahead for the Indian economy. Instead, for the second year running, the finance minister has been pushed to second place by politics.
Last year, the Union Budget was upstaged by the election results from Bihar (the first set of assembly elections, that is); this time, it was Uttar Pradesh's turn.
At least the Election Commission was kind enough to give the finance minister a few hours of glory, this year the Justices in the Allahabad high court were clearing their throats to deliver judgment on Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav even as P Chidambaram was speaking in the Lok Sabha.
The judges ruled that the status of the 40 legislators who had left the Bahujan Samaj Party was questionable.
At this point, I am not sure if the legislators have actually been disqualified; several lawyers are arguing the matter, which is almost certain to end up before the Supreme Court. Mulayam Singh Yadav, however, had clearly been anticipating the verdict.
The Vidhan Sabha was in session. (In fact, it has been kept in session for almost six months at a stretch, possibly waiting for the judicial verdict.) The Samajwadi Party boss immediately whipped a Confidence Motion through the Vidhan Sabha, winning it by 207 votes to nil -- since the entire Opposition walked out in protest.
The deed was over and done with before the leaders of the Congress had time to react. Members of Parliament who had come prepared with pompous statements about the Budget were left hunting for words to describe Mulayam Singh Yadav's pre-emptive strike.
Governor T V Rajeswar and Vidhan Sabha Speaker Mata Prasad Pandey now have the unenviable task of trying to calm everyone down. I predict that they will both fail at the task, if only because they are simply not trusted by everyone.
Rajeswar is known to be close to the Congress in general, and the Nehru-Gandhi family in particular. So much so that he was one of the first IPS officers appointed to a governorship; Rajeswar has been in some Raj Bhavan or the other over the past 20 years, whenever the Congress has been in power in New Delhi.
But how much scope for action does he have after the Supreme Court judgment against Buta Singh in Bihar?
It can, of course, be argued that Mulayam Singh Yadav's Confidence Motion was a fraud on democracy, given that the 40 legislators who caused the crisis voted for him.
But, as we all know, there is a world of difference between morality and legality.
Did the 40 legislators actually disqualify themselves until after they had voted? That is for Speaker Pandey to decide, and I am sure he will take his own time to do so.
The Confidence Motion simply means that the Congress's dirty tricks specialists must work a little harder.
I am sure that the powers-that-be in Delhi will waste no time in chipping away at Mulayam Singh Yadav's base. Ajit Singh, for instance, has 15 legislators in hand. Let us not forget that this son and heir of Chaudhary Charan Singh has joined hands with every other front at some point.
What if he chooses to rejoin the Congress? And what of those 40 legislators who caused this crisis to erupt in the first place? Having defected once, is there any moral or ideological reason why they should not do an action replay?
Once again, what we are seeing is the utter emptiness of the 'secularism' preached by some political parties.
I wrote about it in Tamil Nadu, and then in Maharashtra. Now, it is happening all over again in Uttar Pradesh.
In 1997, the Congress brought down the I K Gujral government on the ground that it could not possibly support a ministry in which the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham was a constituent. This followed the publication of the Jain Commission's preliminary report on Rajiv Gandhi's assassination.
The same Congress and the same DMK are now partners in Tamil Nadu, and a Congress prime minister has DMK ministers in his Cabinet.
Sharad Pawar left the Congress because he said he could not stomach someone of foreign birth -- Sonia Gandhi -- being projected as a potential prime minister. He now sees nothing wrong in joining a Union Cabinet that works under the direction of that same person.
Having thrown buckets of manure on each other, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress are now allies in Maharashtra. Yet they are working to cut the ground from beneath each other's feet for electoral advantage.
It is easy to condemn Mulayam Singh Yadav for staging a drama in the Vidhan Sabha. But in purely political terms how is he any different from Karunanidhi and Sharad Pawar?
Both men support the Congress in Parliament. Well, so does the Samajwadi Party!
Both the Nationalist Congress Party and the DMK enjoy, at least on paper, the backing of the Congress in their home states. But so does the Mulayam ministry in Lucknow!
The Congress will walk out in protest when the UP chief minister brings a Confidence Motion before the House, but it shrinks from actually saying that the ministry has lost Congress support.
After all, how can it approach the voters after bringing down a 'secular' ministry?
The Congress is stuck on the horns of a hideous dilemma. It cannot return to power in Lucknow -- nor enjoy a majority of its own in Delhi -- without wooing back voters who switched allegiance to Mulayam Singh Yadav.
But at least in the immediate future the only alternative to his ministry is a Bahujan Samaj Party-Bharatiya Janata Party coalition of some sort. That is true not just now, but probably after the next Vidhan Sabha elections as well.
The Congress lacks any chance of forming a ministry in Uttar Pradesh.
It is smaller by far than the Samajwadi Party, the BSP, and the BJP. The best it can do is to create such chaos, using the levers of power available in Delhi, that President's Rule must be enforced. But what happens after that?
T V R Shenoy