Hope of victory in Karnataka and the resolution of the India-China face-off have played a role in the strategy adopted by the Congress in tackling the opposition, says Anita Katyal
The certainty of a victory in the Karnataka assembly polls and the timely resolution of the three-week India-China face-off in Ladakh has emboldened the beleaguered Congress-led UPA government to adopt a more aggressive stance vis-a-vis the opposition on the twin controversies involving Unions ministers Pawan Kumar Bansal and Ashwani Kumar.
A victory in Karnataka will prove to be a morale booster for the Congress which has been hit by a series of scams and controversies, providing an opportunity to the grand old party to pin down the Bharatiya Janata Party which looks all set to lose its first government in the south. Although the election results will be out only on Wednesday, the Congress is already smiling as it looks at a near certain win in Karnataka.
The resolution of the India China face-off also proved to be a major relief for the government as the BJP had not only disrupted Parliament on this issue but had also petitioned President Pranab Mukherjee to caution the prime minster and the UPA government over the Chinese incursions.
While the BJP has had to beat a hasty retreat, the UPA government is touting the successful resolution of the face-off as a victory for Indian diplomacy. The pressure tactics included a threat to scale down relations with its neighbour and the possible cancellation of External Affairs Minister Salman Khushid’s May 9 visit to Beijing.
While there are reports that India has assured the Chinese that it would not go ahead with the construction of new bunkers in Ladakh’s Chumar sector, Salman Khurshid denied that any concessions had been made.
“There was no deal or a quid pro quo. Both sides decided to go back to their respective positions,” Khurshid told rediff.com.
Karnataka's hope and China played a role in the strategy adopted by the Congress in tackling the opposition offensive.
First, the Congress leadership took a considered decision not to sack the two ministers whose resignations are being demanded by a belligerent opposition which disrupted the second half of the budget session of Parliament and ensured that no business could be transacted. The Congress argued that it would await the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Ashwani Kumar and the completion of the CBI probe in the case of Bansal before taking decision on their continuation in the government.
Second, the Congress decided to ignore the uproar created by the opposition and push ahead with a discussion on the Food Security Bill in the din. Congress President Sonia Gandhi personally led the battle against the opposition in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday when the Bill was introduced and a debate initiated. Sonia Gandhi has been pushing for this bill, listed as one of key promises in the Congress party’s election manifesto. Touted as UPA-II’s flagship programme, the party believes it could pay rich electoral dividends like the farmers’ loan waiver and rural job guarantee scheme helped the ruling coalition to return to power for a second term in 2009.
Congress leaders admitted that it will not be possible to pass the bill when there is turmoil in the House but it will help the party to counter attack the opposition for blocking a pro-poor legislation on which there is broad agreement among all the political parties. The government is also looking at the possibility of promulgating ordinances on the Food Security Bill and the Land Acquisition Bill if these are not cleared by Parliament by May 10 when this session draws to a close.
“Let them oppose these welfare bills in the monsoon session… we will then go to people and tell them that we wanted to enact these legislations but the anti-poor opposition blocked them,” remarked a senior Congress leader.
While turning the tables on the opposition, the Congress is also hoping that the focus on the Food Security Bill will deflect attention from the Ashwani Kumar-Bansal saga which, party insiders privately admitted, has further eroded the government’s image. The prime minister has personally come under severe attack for protecting the two ministers.
The BJP, which is continuing to disrupt Parliament, has made it clear that it will not allow the passage of these legislations till Ashwani Kumar and Pawan Kumar Bansal put in their papers. "Pawan Bansal should have stepped down as soon as the details of his officials involvement came out," said BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi. "There will be no compromise on corruption... disruptions are also a part of parliamentary tradition," said BJP Spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad."
However, the Congress was equally quick to retaliate. Accusing the BJP of scuttling the bill, Food Minister KV Thomas said, "This is a commitment of the government and we will pass it." Going on the warpath Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath and Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari also sought to put the BJP in the dock for blocking pro poor legislations.
Clearly, the Congress thinks that offence is the best form of defence.