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Savaged by a dead sheep

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A government that everyone had written off for dead has come back to bite its worst ally and best enemies. Moneycontrol reports:

The Mamata Banerjee-Congress relationship is now a closed chapter with six Trinamool Congress ministers set to formally submit their resignation letters. They will meet the President to convey their decision of withdrawing support to the UPA. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is also expected to address the nation after Mamata’s ministers resign.

Rarely seen in the corridors of their ministries and rarely heard discussing policies, Mamata’s six gems in UPA-II would exit Manmohan Singh’s government on Friday with no one to miss them.

The two issues which brought together bitter rivals, CPM and Trinamool, are the central government’s decision to allow an increase in diesel and gas prices, and foreign direct investment in retail. The third issue, of FDI in aviation, has been so roundly ignored that it argues that no party really has a principled opposition to foreign majority shareholdings in India. DNA reports the reaction from the congress:

With an assurance that there is no immediate threat to the survival of the UPA government, the Congress is palpably relieved that the Trinamool Congress is ‘finally quitting’ the alliance. “For the last three years, the government has only suffered humiliation at her hands, and though we are sad that an alliance partner is leaving, we cannot deny that it offers a big relief,” said an AICC functionary who has been dealing with her on a regular basis.

This feeling of relief has surfaced after party managers overcame the initial shock of Banerjee’s decision to withdraw support. “We are reconciled to the situation after all she was not one of those allies on whom you can depend in difficult situations,” the functionary said.

The government did not fall immediately, as NDTV reported:

Since Ms Banerjee announced her decision to drop out of the government earlier this week, Mr Yadav had hinted but not committed that his support to the government will continue. Today, he ended the suspense for the Congress by announcing that he will stand by the coalition while opposing reforms like FDI in retail. He also said that his allegiance with the UPA is prompted by his commitment to keeping the “communal forces” of the BJP at bay.

Mr Yadav has always been a parlous partner. His Samajwadi Party was voted into power in Uttar Pradesh earlier this year, a victory enabled by his son, Akhilesh, who is now chief minister. Mr Yadav’s support at the centre will come with strings attached – his son’s government has been soliciting large financial packages and concessions from the UPA. Mr Yadav’s stand on reforms will also be guided by his state’s votebank, which is likely to position him against the centre.

Both issues have been tentatively floated before. Traders’ parties like the BJP are strongly opposed to foreign retailers entering the Indian market, and workers’ parties like the CPM have repeatedly opposed any increase in the price of cooking gas or diesel. So why did the congress go ahead with this? Was it a calculated political move?

The simplest explanation comes from the BJP, which claims that this was done to distract attention from coalgate. This could well have been one of the calculations that went into the move. If so, it has been very successful.

A second explanation is that the Congress realizes that UPA II is essentially done, and it has to go back to its core agenda in the remaining days in order to maximize its chances in the coming elections. If so, the reception these policy declarations have obtained from industry bodies shows that it has been a massively successful tactic.

In politics one must seek political motives. However, some pundits have also turned to the psychology of the individual. These explanations point to the past where Manmohan Singh has placed policy above politics. Given the immediate political success of these past moves, it is not clear that psychology will become a provable prime cause.

Nevertheless two major questions remain. One is the short term question of whether the government will actually survive; will the wily politicians who have promised external support really allow the rightwing economic reforms agenda to continue? The second is the longer term question that devils the Congress; if Manmohan Singh is not a Prime Ministerial candidate in the next election, then will all this positive feeling translate into votes for the Congress?

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Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

September 21, 2012 at 4:24 am

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