Thursday, September 27, 2012

Political timing scores for the UPA

If a week is supposed to be a long time in politics, the eighteen months till the scheduled date of the next general elections in 2014 is an eternity.

This is the reality that the Opposition parties, which are huffing and puffing to blow the UPA-2 house down, must contend with.
These are also the months that offer the possibility of redemption for the Congress-led alliance which has wasted three long years through its policy of masterly inactivity and finally decided to act. Alliance In politics, as in theatre, timing is everything.
Critics may argue that the UPA2 should have acted earlier and that they struck back only when their backs were to the wall. In the end, whether by design or accident, they acted at the right time.
For them to have taken these measures last year at the height of the anti-corruption movement, and on the eve of important state assembly polls, would have been foolhardy.
Likewise, this year they needed to hold their fire till the presidential and vice-presidential elections were out of the way.
Finally they acted when the anti-corruption movement had reached its nadir, no significant state assembly poll (barring Gujarat where the Congress tally has only one way to go, up) and the haemorrhaging fuel costs had reached a point where the country's credit rating would get 'junk' status.
So, the UPA now has time. The question is whether it can use this time effectively, or squander it as it did in the last three years.
As of now the coalition has been smart to front-load reform measures that were being opposed tooth and nail by the Opposition-FDI in retail, broadcasting, aviation, an increase in diesel prices, an effort to cap the LPG subsidy.
This has been followed in rapid- fire movement by Chidambaram's signal that the taxation regime will once again become investor friendly and that the government would now begin moving on its disinvestment agenda.
The government knows that issues like banking or insurance reform is less likely to be taken up because they require a change in the current law and the balance of power in Parliament, especially the Upper House, is not a comfortable one for UPA2.
Eighteen months are clearly not enough to get the economy on the high growth path howsoever urgently the government acts. This is especially since the external situation remains dismal.
Europe is still teetering on the brink and the American economy remains anaemic. Oil prices continue to remain high and inflation is still a concern enough to ensure that the RBI is not lowering the interest rates.
But what matters is that the UPA has at least revealed a blueprint for the kind of India it wants and more important seems determined at last to act on that blueprint instead of merely waving it around.
The Opposition, on the other hand, has no blueprint or scheme; it just seems to revel in negativism.
The BJP, the party that strongly supported FDI, the Indo-US nuclear deal and disinvestment when it led the then ruling National Democratic Alliance coalition has become a bitter opponent of all three policies.
No one knows what the party stands for today. All we hear from its leaders is an endless tirade against the Congress and the UPA. Come election time, voters are unlikely to be impressed by this.
They will want to know what the BJP is all about, and that is being carefully obfuscated to prevent us from realising that the party's leadership and its ideology are in disarray.
By now it is clear that the UPA 2 ship remains steady; the decision of the Trinamool Congress to walk out has, ironically, assisted this process. By remaining within, the 19-member group by itself was capable of capsizing the boat.
The experience between the defenestration of Dinesh Trivedi as railway minister and that of the protest against the price rise of diesel and the introduction of FDI in retail would have been sufficient to convince even the most optimist of people, that Mamata's exit was a matter of time. Politics
The politics of India is now at an interesting new phase where a collection of regional and caste-based parties sense opportunity to move ahead, while the three major national formations-here we include the Left in the category- seek to retain their clout.
The problem with these regional and caste formations is that their traction is limited.
Ask Mayawati. She has tried more than anyone else has to enhance the footprint of the Bahujan Samaj Party across the nation.
Conventional wisdom would have suggested that she would succeed since Dalits are a pan-Indian phenomenon, and the BSP is well-funded and has a leader who has developed a national presence.
But the BSP has failed to make headway. In a more desultory way, the Trinamool is playing the same game. The SP has managed some voter support in distant Mumbai, based on migrants, but that's all.
The Janata Dal (United) may hearken to the old Janata party, but it is in essence a Bihari formation and likely to remain that way. As for the Dravidians, their appeal remains confined to the lands between Tirupati and Kanyakumari.
So, we have a slew of leaders who are likely to win 20,30, 50 seats and they are all hoping to be crowned king, or be the kingmaker. And this is what is really adding turbulence to the Indian political system.
There is little to be gained by celebrating these petty satraps. This vast and divergent India needs a leadership which is able to deal with issues on a national basis and perspective.
Only two formations are in that game. But where one seems to have gotten lost in some modern chakravyuh (maze), the other is at least, and at last, making an effort.
Mail Today September 24, 2012

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