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Behind PM's happy mood and Congress gameplan

Last updated on: March 30, 2013 13:03 IST

Behind PM's happy mood and Congress gameplan

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M K Bhadrakumar analyses the reason why Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is brimming with confidence since his trip to South African capital Durban.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's journey home from visits abroad always provides a moveable feast.

Those are rare occasions when the taciturn prime minister opens up to the media persons accompanying him -- willing to share thoughts, shedding innate reserve for an hour.

The journey back home from Durban, South Africa, on Thursday after attending the BRICS summit meeting was of a piece, no doubt.

Dr Singh told the media on Thursday with supreme confidence that the coalition government he leads is no more in any trouble.

His confidence in being in control of things is such that although 80 years old, Dr Singh still keeps an open mind as regards his own political career when the current term as prime minister ends.

What made the prime minister so relaxed? He was a harrowed man when he left India's shores on Monday morning.

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The ruling Congress Party is finally getting its act together

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The Italian Marines, Sri Lankan Tamils, rowdyish coalition partners, faltering economy, dysfunctional parliament, perennial 2G scam -- life was one continuous string of fire-fighting.

Was it the BRICS summit that made the prime minister happy and relaxed? Or, was it his successful first meeting in Durban with China's new leader Xi Jinping?

But then, the BRICS development bank and the India-China relationship are work in progress. There must be a third good reason -- and it concerns the domestic political scene in India.

After a prolonged period of political uncertainty buffeting the Manmohan Singh government, the ruling Congress Party is finally getting its act together.

By deft manoeuvring, the party has all but ensured that in a huge swathe of the north Indian plains -- comprising the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal -- the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party is going to be virtually deprived of an electoral ally in the 2014 parliamentary poll and may come to bite the dust.

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Congress rightly estimates that it can pick and choose

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The Congress Party's success has been so encouraging that it seems at times that it is all but pushing away Samajwadi Party taking into account the prevailing political climate in Uttar Pradesh.

Congress rightly estimates that it can pick and choose, since the SP has nowhere to go but isolation, while the Bahujan Samaj Party would also need to be kept away from the BJP.

The result is plain to see -- SP is in a state of suspended animation with frayed nerves, in turn baited by inducements from the Manmohan Singh government and by humiliating rubbishing from the Congress politicians.

As for Bihar, Congress is on the brink of virtually nabbing the Janata Dal-United from the BJP's ambit and it seems the BJP might get stranded without an ally in Bihar.

A variant of the SP game is being played out in West Bengal as well, with Congress taking advantage of the Trinamool's need to keep its Muslim vote bank in mind, which means keeping the BJP at arm's length.

Now, it needs to be factored in that these three states alone account for one third of the 540-member Indian parliament.

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Image: Bihar Chief minister Nitish Kumar with PM Singh

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Congress may well go for early poll if it trounces the BJP in Karnataka

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To add to BJP's woes, in the southern state of Karnataka, where it has been in power for the past five years, Congress will almost certainly thrash it in the forthcoming assembly elections due shortly.

The recent local body elections are a harbinger of the shape of things to come.

Which, in turn, would mean that in something like 125 seats from the four southern states combined -- Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala -- BJP will be lucky if it garners a dozen seats.

Clearly, this being the state of affairs all in all in the seven states that return around 300 lawmakers to the 540-member parliament, BJP's prospects of coming to power in Delhi in 2014 seem rather dismal as things stand today.

The big question is when the parliamentary elections are going to be held. In his interaction with the media, Prime Minister left things delightfully vague.

Indeed, as things stand, Congress may well go for early poll if it trounces the BJP convincingly in the May elections in Karnataka.

Again, the temptation will always be there to deny the BJP the time needed to regain its poise after a shattering defeat, settle its internal disarray and unify behind a single leader.

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Congress strategists' gameplan

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Meanwhile, although Manmohan Singh is commonly branded as a votary of neo-liberalism, India is poised to become the most adorable welfare state in the world.

The government is competing with the non-Congress state governments in resorting to populist measures aimed at projecting the Congress Party as a caring, benevolent party safeguarding the interests of the hundreds of millions of poor people who form the majority of India's population.

Quite possibly, Congress may offer one kilogram of rice for fifty paise for all Indians and a bicycle to carry it home. It is no doubt pressing the pedal on welfare measures with the eye on the forthcoming election.

But there is no certainty that the ploy, which is as ancient as the Indira Gandhi era, will work. The misgovernance by the Manmohan Singh government and the scams remain an albatross around the Congress Party's neck.

Thus, Congress strategists would justifiably estimate that the surest way of winning the 2014 election would be by ensuring that the BJP doesn't win.

Indeed, you don't wrap up all things for all time in politics, but you can most things for some time. This is one such moment when things look good for Congress, and it makes the prime minister happy and encourages him to meditate on afterlife.



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