Politics often is a tale of ironies, of relief couched in distress. The DMK’s rout in Tamil Nadu could well be a blessing in disguise for the UPA.
The irony’s as much axiomatic for the Communists, booted out of West Bengal but ready for another battle in Kerala. It’s time for them to introspect—and course correct.
Amid a welter of corruption charges, the UPA made the best of a bad situation with Mamata Banerjee’s landslide in Bengal, Tarun Gogoi’s hat-trick in Assam and the UDF’s slender win in Kerala.
Jayalalithaa’s fatal political blow to Karunanidhi averted the prospects of a shimmering intra-UPA conflict turning fratricidal. Or so it seems.
The signal couldn’t have been louder for the Congress. If good governance helped Gogoi emerge stronger, the taint of corruption kept the party from shining brighter in Kerala. It's only hope now is in pushing development without loot.
The profligate Karunanidhi clan’s stunningly decisive rejection is nothing short of a diktat for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to take the bull of corruption by its horns.
Chastened by the electorate, the DMK patriarch cannot arm-twist or put a price tag on his support. He’d have to be amenable to reason and not expect his senior alliance partner to show chivalry to his daughter under probe in the 2G scandal.
“Karunanidhi is a seasoned politician. He wouldn't fight us in Delhi and Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu,” remarked a Congress leader. “On our part, we’d have to be more persuasive than aggressive with him.”
A lot would depend on the way Singh choreographs his moves in consultation with Sonia Gandhi. People have shown their will. It's his turn to show power that belongs to the office he holds.
The coalition dharma or compulsion argument wouldn't wash. It didn't even when Karunanidhi held him back from sacking the since jailed A Raja.
"About time the UPA got over its nervous breakdown. The electorate has given us room to combat sleaze and formulate big-ticket policies," said a central minister.
Expeditious passage of lokpal and food security legislations could help the combine recover a bit of its lost sheen. Mamata indeed is a hard-bargainer. But she cannot run the state the Left ruled for 35 years the way she ran Railways. Agitation wouldn't help any more; good administration would.
For that she'd need a Centre that's as generous with advice as with funds to tone up governance and shore up Bengal's rickety economy.
"The dogmatic Communists distributed wealth but lost for failing to generate more," said a senior civil servant with good knowledge of Bengal.
"Mamata will have to lean on the Congress and the PM to give a government that looks better and measures up to people's rising aspirations. Her terms of engagement with the Centre will have to be mutually accommodative and unobtrusive." Short of that, paribartan (change) wouldn't happen in Delhi and Kolkata.
Mamata Di should know that as chief minister, she'd be compared inevitably with the other big winner of these elections — the Amma in Chennai.