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Home > India > News > Columnists > T V R Shenoy

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From jail to bailing out Dr Singh!

July 14, 2008

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The Honourable Member of Parliament from Phulpur, Ateeq Ahmad (Samajwadi Party), is in jail. He stands charged with the murder of Bahujan Samaj Party MLA Raju Pal.

The Honourable Member of Parliament from Ghazipur, Afzal Ansari (Samajwadi Party), is in jail. He is accused of complicity in the murder of BJP leader Krishnanand Rai.

The Honourable Member of Parliament from Siwan, Mohammed Shahabuddin (Rashtriya Janata Dal), is in jail. He has been convicted in the murder of CPI-ML worker Chhote Lal Gupta.

The Honourable Member of Parliament from Madhepura, Rajesh Ranjan ('Pappu Yadav'), is in jail. He was sentenced in the case of the murder of CPI-M MLA Ajit Sarkar.

The Honourable Member of Parliament from Balia, Suraj ('Surajbhan') Singh (Lok Janshakti Party), is in jail. He was found guilty in the case of the murder of a farmer, Rami Singh of Madhurapur-Purvatola village in Begusarai District.

Please note that when I write 'is in jail' it refers strictly to the time of writing. I understand that each of the five honourable Members of Parliament will be permitted to vote in the Lok Sabha on the issue of the nuclear deal.

First things first: I estimate that there is a 99 per cent chance of the Manmohan Singh [Images] ministry winning a Vote of Confidence in the Lok Sabha. (Or, alternatively, of fending off a No-Confidence Motion.) I would have calculated its chances of survival at 100 per cent but let us not forget that we are talking about politicians here.

But what comes next? The frustration and pent-up anger of the Congress at its fifty month-long association with the Left Front has been only too evident in the past week. It took Lalu Prasad Yadav to remind everyone that the Left Front would, probably, be needed once again after the next general election.

You know the Congress has crossed the limit when our beloved railway minister stands out as a beacon of reason.

Yet, no matter what happened in the past fifty months, does the Congress think the next ten months shall be any better? The Manmohan Singh ministry needs every vote it can muster; that means the five honourable Members of Parliament named above must be brought from their jail cells to Parliament House, television cameras recording every move. It shall be, to say the least, an unsavoury beginning to the new alliance.

As a matter of fact, the bargaining has begun before the debate has even begun in the House. Amar Singh has laid forward a set of demands. Shibu Soren's camp has leaked that its leader wouldn't say no to the Union coal ministry. The Congress, in a space of mere weeks, may look back nostalgically at the good old days of its dalliance with the Left Front.

After all, the CPI-M leaders are intelligent, articulate, and observe certain norms. Can you imagine a Prakash Karat speaking of his meetings with the UPA chairperson in terms of 'suhaag-raat' ('wedding night') and 'balaatkaar' ('rape')? I know several Congressmen who cringed at the Samajwadi Party general secretary's alleged words but nobody dared to raise a voice, and it fell, oddly enough, to the BJP and the CPI-M to protest the insult to women in general and to Sonia Gandhi [Images] in particular.

And what exactly is the Congress going to gain at the end of it all? Some Congressmen say their alliance with the Left Front was always 'unnatural.' True, but how is the alliance with the Samajwadi Party any less 'unnatural?'

The point has not been lost on at least one Congress leader, Rahul Gandhi [Images]. The Nehru-Gandhi scion knows that the Congress must regain its old standing in Uttar Pradesh, India's largest chunk of votes, if it is to stand on its own feet. He has reportedly pointed out how the Congress struck a poor bargain twelve years ago when the party made an electoral alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party for the Uttar Pradesh Vidhan Sabha elections. Isn't the Samajwadi Party as much of a competitor to the Congress in Uttar Pradesh as the CPI-M is in Kerala [Images] and West Bengal?

Rahul Gandhi is right to be wary about the Samajwadi Party, and you need look no farther than one of the family boroughs to bear him out. Today we tend to think of Rae Bareli and Amethi as the traditional constituencies of the Nehru-Gandhis but it wasn't always so.

In the first general election, Jawaharlal Nehru was elected from 'Allahabad District (East) cum Jaunpur District (West)'; his successor in subsequent Lok Sabha polls was no less than Lal Bahadur Shastri. In 1957 and 1962, Pandit Nehru chose to contest from Phulpur; the seat was won by his sister, Vijayalakshmi Pandit, after his death. Guess which party holds the Allahabad and Phulpur seats today?

In the last 2004 general election, the Congress candidate from Allahabad, Satya [Images] Prakash Malviya, wasn't just beaten; he suffered the humiliation of losing his deposit in the home of the first three Congress prime ministers. Malviya had company in the Congress nominee from Phulpur, Ram Poojan Patel, marked in the Election Commission's
annals with the chilly word 'Forfeited'.

The successful candidate from Allahabad was the Samajwadi Party's Kunwar Rewati Raman Singh ('Mani Ji'). As for Phulpur, it is currently represented in the Lok Sabha by the man mentioned in the first sentence of this column.

If I may digress a bit, isn't this a shocking commentary on Uttar Pradesh politics? To think that a constituency represented by Jawaharlal Nehru and Vijayalakshmi Pandit is now held by a man behind bars!

Rahul Gandhi has the responsibility of nurturing the Congress back to strength in Uttar Pradesh. But how can he do so without stepping on the toes of his dear friends in Amar Singh's party?

The saddest part in the story is bound to be played by poor Dr Manmohan Singh. He has staked his government's future on the nuclear deal; he is now duty-bound to stick on in office until it makes its leisurely course through the United States Congress, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the Nuclear Suppliers Group -- months of bullying by 'allies' anxious to make their mark before the inevitable elections.

Confronted with the prospect of such humiliation, some Congressmen may prefer instant elections. But, even if the spectres of rising inflation and failing growth didn't haunt the party, rest assured that the Honourable Ateeq Ahmad, the Honourable Afzal Ansari, the Honourable Mohammed Shahabuddin, the Honourable Rajesh Ranjan ('Pappu Yadav'), and the Honourable Suraj ('Surajbhan') Singh will not let Dr Manmohan Singh fall come the twenty-second of July!

Tailpiece: Two men, Prakash Karat and Manmohan Singh, have dominated the headlines over the nuclear deal. Weirdly, neither is a member of the Lok Sabha, so neither may cast a vote in the House in that epochal vote!


T V R Shenoy



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