After the Budget, the Congress finds itself out manoeuvred
No matter how glum he gets and regardless of whether he blames
it all on Chandra Shekhar/Chandra Swami/ Deve Gowda and Narasimha
Rao, there is no doubt that things have gone very badly wrong
for Sitaram Kesri. Only three months ago, he was being talked
about as the next prime minister of India.; now there is some
question over whether he will win elections as full-fledged Congress
The euphoria that has greeted Palaniappan Chidambaram's Budget may have
demonstrated the truth of that ancient political maxim, 'Give
the Indian middle class ten per cent off income tax and they will
hail you as a statesman,' but it has also bought Prime Minister
H D Deve Gowda the support of the chattering classes.
No longer is the United Front perceived as a collection of rustic
buffoons who have squatted temporarily at South Block while the
Congress takes a brief breather. Poll the middle classes and you
will find that more people want Deve Gowda as prime minister than
are willing to put up with Kesri.
Of course, all this is -- by definition -- transient. The same industrialists
who once hailed Chidambaram as their candidate for prime minister
turned viciously against him within three months of his becoming
finance minister and then changed their minds yet again within
minutes of his Budget speech. As Rajiv Gandhi and V P Singh
discovered, if you build on middle class support, you build on
sand. And if you hope to flourish as the candidate of FICCI or
the CII, give up now because whatever you do, it will never be enough.
So, the humble farmer might be in deep trouble again. And this
new support will probably not last. But regardless of what the
future brings, it is hard to deny that the United Front now has
the kind of chattering class legitimacy that had always eluded
Moreover, contrary to expectation, the United Front's constituents
have -- by and large -- behaved themselves.
The same, alas, is not true of the Congress where Kesri's coup
against Narasimha Rao, the vitriolic outpourings of Jagannath
Mishra, and the Sharad Pawar factor have created an environment
that is more Janata Dal than Congress. And while the post-Budget
United Front clearly stands for liberalisation, it is hard to
say what Kesri's Congress stands for; it certainly isn't economic
What then, can the Congress do in the months ahead? Let us, first
of all, concede that it is still possible for Kesri to replace
Deve Gowda. The prime minister may make some terrible mistake
and his government could well commit hara-kiri. Kesri could then
demand all-party support on a keep the BJP-out platform.
But, let us also concede, that this now seems more and more unlikely.
For Kesri to get the numbers required to take office, he needs
the support of three men. And none of them is enthusiastic about
G K Moopanar has already made it clear that he wants the Congress
to join the United Front government. In other words, the TMC is
not about to leave the United Front to join the Congress.
Mulayam Singh Yadav has opened a channel to Kesri but as of now,
he sees no profit in toppling Deve Gowda. He's getting what he
wants out of the UF; what more can Kesri offer him?
Even Laloo Yadav seems to have veered around to the view that
he will be no better off with Kesri than Deve Gowda. The Congress will
be unable to stall the CBI investigations into the fodder scam
and his Bihar Janata Dal will lose backward class support by linking
up with the Congress.
Given these calculations, Kesri will have enormous difficulty
in replacing Deve Gowda. That leaves him with only two options.
The first is for the Congress to join this government -- as Moopanar
has suggested. And the second is to prepare for an election.
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