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Mulayam better option than Mamata for the Congress?

By T V R Shenoy
Last updated on: January 05, 2012 20:42 IST
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The Congress is apparently placing its bets on the Samajwadi Party which currently has 22 MPs in the Lok Sabha.

What pound of flesh will Mulayam Singh Yadav extract, asks T V R Shenoy.

'It is the triumph of hope over experience,' was Samuel Johnson's response to a second marriage on the heels of a first, extremely unhappy, union.

Is the Congress planning a second wedding before the first union ends in divorce, using Mulayam Singh Yadav to offset Mamata Banerjee?

Could there be an unhappier match than that between the Trinamool Congress and its parent party? It is a little over six months since Mamata Banerjee became chief minister of West Bengal -- and there seems to have been a fresh domestic drama to enliven each of those months.

Dr Manmohan Singh thought he was pulling off a foreign policy coup in September by signing a Teesta Accord with Bangladesh. The chief minister of West Bengal made her unhappiness clear that New Delhi was planning to offer Dhaka over 30,000 cusecs of water -- 60,000 cusecs according to some reports -- when she had agreed to 25,000 cusecs as the upper limit.

The result is that there is still no Teesta Accord.

The Union rural development minister hoped to win the Trinamool Congress chief's support for his Land Acquisition Bill. (Epitomising rotten timing, Jairam Ramesh flew to Kolkata on the very day, September 4, that Mamata Banerjee scuppered the Teesta deal; is there no coordination in the Manmohan Singh ministry?)

Land acquisition is a sensitive point for the Trinamool Congress which rode into power on the back of the Singur agitation against the Tata Nano factory. There was never going to be a meeting of minds between Mamata Banerjee and a man who reportedly said, 'The most important issue is the acquisition by the government for the private companies for private purposes.'

The result is that no Land Acquisition Bill has been enacted by Parliament.

The next point of dispute was the Manmohan Singh ministry's 'executive decision' that raised the FDI limit to 50 per cent in the retail sector. I still believe that this was largely a ploy to divert attention from other issues -- principally the Lokpal Bill and the case of black money held by Indians in foreign banks. (Has the Government of India agreed to a pact that ties its own hands on seeking information about all past deposits? If so, that is another scandal in the making.)

If it were indeed a diversionary tactic it failed spectacularly when Mamata Banerjee came out all guns blazing. All of a sudden it was no longer a question of scuppering the Lokpal Bill and the black money debate, but of saving the ministry itself.

The result was that the government announced the withdrawal of the 'executive decision'.

The FDI furore had barely died down when the Trinamool Congress and the Congress clashed over the Pension Fund Regulatory Development Authority Bill. Mamata Banerjee objected to the fact that the Bill would permit investing in the equity market. Incredibly, it turned out that the Congress had reached out to the BJP, but not to the Trinamool Congress.

The result is that no Pension Bill has been enacted by Parliament.

December was evidently a month of missteps for the Congress because, as we all know, it ended with the debacle of the Lokpal Bill. Once again, it was Mamata Banerjee's defence of states' rights that stopped the Congress in its tracks in the Rajya Sabha.

The result is that Parliament has not passed a Lokpal Bill.

There are more honourable ways of backtracking than the hideous tactics preferred by the Congress to prevent a 'defeat' in the Rajya Sabha. Pranab Mukherjee ended the FDI mess by admitting in the Lok Sabha that the government lacked the numbers.

The Leader of the Opposition then graciously responded, 'Bowing to the popular will is not the government's defeat, it is the victory of democracy'. Wasn't there any Congressman in the Rajya Sabha to match Pranab Mukherjee's honesty?

The Congress's knee-jerk response to each of the crises mentioned above was soothing talk of a 'Bengal package.' This is a euphemism for loans -- possibly debt write-offs -- to tide the state over the mess left by 34 years of Left Front rule. Here is the interesting point: West Bengal has not received any such assistance.

Pranab Mukherjee may be the MP for Jangipur in West Bengal, but he is also the Union finance minister. Does he, perhaps, know how little the Government of India has in its kitty? Is the 'Bengal package' left dangling because the Manmohan Singh ministry simply doesn't have the money?

That is a scary question, but it cannot be answered today. The immediate result is that the Congress has neither carrot nor stick. There is no 'Bengal package', and the Mamata Banerjee ministry does not need the Congress because the Trinamool Congress has 184 MLAs in a 294-strong assembly.

That is not true of the Congress in Delhi, where the party has only 207 seats in the 543-strong Lok Sabha (excluding nominated members). The 19 Trinamool Congress MPs help sustain the Manmohan Singh ministry, which is what gives Mamata Banerjee her clout.

Could there be a replacement if the alliance between the Congress and the Trinamool Congress sunders?

It will be slightly silly if the Congress breaks off ties over renaming 'Indira House' as 'Kazi Nazrul Bhawan'. Does it really want to rile Bengali pride -- particularly the Muslims who make up over a quarter of the state -- by placing Indira Gandhi higher in the pantheon?

The Congress is apparently placing its bets on the Samajwadi Party, which currently has 22 MPs in the Lok Sabha. But what pound of flesh shall Mulayam Singh Yadav extract?

Three years ago, during the campaign in the 2009 general election, the Congress 'Yuvraj' declared that the Congress would go it alone in Uttar Pradesh. Rahul Gandhi's calculation proved spot on, the Congress coming second only to the Samajwadi Party in the crucial state.

That dream has been quietly jettisoned. Or at least it would have been done quietly if Akhilesh Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav's son and political heir, did not bring it into the open.

In a seemingly calculated move, the Samajwadi Party leader spoke of 'arrangements' after the Uttar Pradesh polls. At the very least this means supporting a Samajwadi Party chief minister in Lucknow, but it could extend to plum ministries in Delhi.

Of course, the Samajwadi Party has previously attacked the Manmohan Singh ministry on issues ranging from FDI in retail to the Lokpal Bill. But let us not forget that it turned 180ยบ in 2008, from opposing the Nuclear Bill to bailing out Dr Manmohan Singh.

That said, is the Congress jumping from the frying pan into the fire? Congressmen privately denounce Mamata Banerjee as 'fiery' and 'unpredictable.' She may or may not be all those but she is also one of the few incorruptible faces that the UPA can present to the world.

Come the Lok Sabha elections of 2014, what will be the value of a rock-bottom honest politician?

The bottomline is that Rahul Gandhi's dream of ruling Uttar Pradesh has been buried. The talk is no longer of 'strengthening' the party, but of 'extending' the life of the Congress ministry in Delhi -- at almost any cost.

To end as I started, with Samuel Johnson, 'If he does really think that there is no distinction between virtue and vice, why, sir, when he leaves our houses let us count our spoons.'

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