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Home > India > News > Columnists > Neerja Chowdhury

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How the trust vote will change Indian politics

July 29, 2008

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Now that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [Images] has won the trust vote, the nuclear deal is on a fast track.

The vote has, in all probability, also ensured that the general elections are held on schedule. Neither Lalu Yadav nor M Karunanidhi nor Sharad Pawar [Images] want elections before April-May 2009. Nor for that matter does the Samajwadi Party, which is now propping up the government.

There are indications that the SP now wants to enter the government. Being in the cabinet, they would have a say in when the House should be dissolved. It may also rein in Mayawati [Images] from slapping charges against Amar Singh [Images], for action against a Union cabinet minister would need the approval of the President.

What has however changed above all is the country's politics. It is in a state of flux, but broad contours of the new alignments are getting delineated.

The prime minister is in a mood to push for another dose of economic reforms, now that he has shaken off the Left. This may bring the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party together, with the government indicating that it may seek the BJP's help on the pending bills for reforms in the pension, banking and insurance sectors. Dr Singh may wish to move swiftly, before some Congress leaders start to insist again on pre-poll populist measures.

With the Left-Mayawati handshake, the country is once again headed for a tripolar polity -- the United Progressive Alliance, the National Democratic Alliance and the third front. It is early days to talk about the third force. But already ten parties have come together, some of them belonging to the United National Progressive Alliance. The group is led by the Left and Mayawati, who has overnight become a national figure and a contender for prime ministership. These parties have decided to launch a five-point campaign against rising prices, farmers' suicides, communalism, nuclear deal and the misuse of the CBI.

Clearly, the third alternative parties are expected to make gains in Andhra Pradesh and in UP. In Andhra Pradesh, despite incumbency, Chandrababu Naidu [Images] has not revived as he had hoped to. Naidu used to sweep in the past backed by the support of the Kammas and the Kapus. Even though it is difficult to predict the impact film star Chiranjeevi's [Images] entry will have, and he is a Kapu, the Telugu Desam Party-Telengana Rashtriya Samiti-Mayawati-Left alliance could make the going tough for the Congress. The Left is also in close touch with Chiranjeevi.

The Jat-Muslim-OBC combination used to be a potent force in Western UP during the days of Charan Singh. If -- with Ajit Singh joining hands with Mayawati -- it brings about a Jat-Dalit-Muslim combination, Mayawati could sweep in the area. The Jats have traditionally prevented Dalits from voting. But now they will be on the same side, and though there are contradictions here, the Jats, like Brahmins, may see the advantage of going with power.

The Left may not bring much to the table in UP, but they had imparted a progressive image to the SP, and now will do the same for Mayawati. Their alliance with her will help wash away the stigma of her earlier tie-ups with the BJP, and is expected to make her more acceptable to the Muslims. Mayawati crossed the halfway mark when she fought elections on her own last year. Now with Ajit Singh and the Left parties on her side, she is bound to improve her performance.

If the Dalit-Muslim combination starts to click, it will change the established political parameters in an unexpected way. Then it will not be arithmetic but chemistry at play, with 2 plus 2 making not 4, but 22. Ground level stirrings are always difficult to predict.

It will not be easy for the Left to dump Mayawati. There was a time when they viewed the BSP as a casteist phenomenon. The Dalits would not forgive the Left easily if they go back on the promise making Mayawati the prime minister or if they opt for someone else. This is the first time that the Left has aligned with Mayawati. Implicit in the alliance is a greater acceptance of caste as a category of analysis, though the CPI came to accept it much earlier in the post- Mandal phase.

The Congress is on a high after winning the trust vote. But euphoria is often short lived. The party almost thought of plumping for early polls after the Rs 60,000 crore loan waiver it announced during the Budget session. But its magic had disappeared in three weeks and was replaced by the odium of rising prices all around.

With the trust voting leading to realignments, the Congress may stand to gain in UP with its tie-up with SP. It is asking for 40 seats in the ongoing negotiations between the two parties but hopes to settle for 17. It may increase its existing tally a little, but much will depend on how the SP is viewed after its vote for the nuke deal. As things stand, the BJP is likely to be further squeezed out in UP.

The Congress will be on the backfoot in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Jammu and Kashmir [Images] in the next elections. It is expected to gain in Punjab, Kerala [Images] and in West Bengal, if it can have an arrangement with Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress now that it has broken with the Left. Mamata abstained in the trust vote to help the Congress.

Much will also depends on how the Congress fares in Madhya Pradesh [Images], Rajasthan, Delhi [Images] and Chhattisgarh in the winter assembly elections. Mayawati will damage the Congress in these states, and also in Andhra Pradesh now that she has joined hands with the TDP, TRS and the Left. So also in Karnataka, is she remains aligned to H D Deve Gowda's Janata Dal-Secular. Nobody had expected her to mop up so many seats in the civic body elections in Delhi.

The trouble is that the Congress has not so far shown a will to fight back, and is not able to take advantage of even what it considers its achievements. How the trust vote win will change that remains to be seen.

The Congress' allies are not expected to do well next time. Nitish Kumar is expected to deflate Lalu, and J Jayalalitha is all set to defeat the DMK, having weaned away the MDMK to her side and the PMK waiting to do likewise. Sharad Pawar may hold his own in Maharashtra but post polls, all options would be open for the regional parties. It was significant that neither Lalu nor the DMK attacked the Left parties during the trust debate -- and vice versa.

The trust vote came as a setback for L K Advani [Images] and the BJP. It was no secret that the Congress would induce absenteeism from opposition ranks but that it would get so many NDA MPs to vote actively for the UPA has jolted the BJP. The rise of the third alternative is also bad news for the party which was hoping to benefit from the growing disaffection with the UPA.

Our politics is once again in a melting pot, and a three way division of the 15th Lok Sabha cannot be ruled out.

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