It is, perhaps, only a matter of time before a mid- term poll to the Lok Sabha is announced. The crisis between the Left and the UPA can now only be resolved once the issue is taken to the people. The extreme opposition of the Left to the Indo-US nuclear deal has virtually put the government on notice. It is for the Congress and its allies to decide whether they want their government to be brought down or would they prefer an election from a position of majority.
The current crisis is accidental in many ways. The confrontation between the government and its principal supporter has come much before it was anticipated. Internal politics in the Congress has further precipitated the crisis, where some leaders see the instability as an opportunity to realise their unfulfilled ambitions. Their game could be to create a situation where an adamant Manmohan Singh steps down in face of the Left opposition and is replaced by somebody more acceptable to the Left.
But all this activity is not very apparent as it is a sub-plot in the bigger political plot and will surface only if there are chances that the plan may succeed, chances of which are bleak at the moment. As things stand today, the Prime Minister has enhanced his image by taking on the Left and is seen by many as trying to put the country on the path to becoming a global power. Sonia Gandhi also has done well by throwing her weight behind him and sending out a signal that the PM was not alone in his stand and that the entire party stood by him.
The crisis which has necessitated an early poll has also caught the BJP and some regional parties on the wrong foot. The BJP would never have wanted the polls to take place where it was seen to oppose the Indo-US deal with as much ferocity as the Left. Though the BJP (Jan Sangh) and the Left have been on the same side in 1967, 1977 and 1989, this particular time it has hurt the saffron party the most. From a position where it was being portrayed by some of its supporters as an avatar of the US Republican party, it has got itself into a mess where its own middle-class vote bank is more keen to support Manmohan Singh.
With the Left already accused of playing its latest game at the instance of the Chinese, a similar stand by the BJP has hurt its prospects a great deal. Though everyone knows that the BJP is not for China vis-a-vis the US, the fact remains that the crisis as it plays out has become one between the US and the Chinese. The supporters and opponents of the treaty are seen on different sides as per this broader classification.
The Left is keen to project the Congress as a US stooge in the hope that the Muslim vote in the country will veer towards it and the parties it supports. It also suits the Congress to be seen in this light since it is sure to attract the majority vote. The party does not need to prove its secular credentials given its commitment to weaker sections. The Congress just needs to hold on to its own constituency and should not try to over-emphasise the minority card by talking about the Sachar Committee’s report. Instead, it should go on the offensive to highlight its achievements.
A lot will depend on how the Congress explains the reasons for going to the polls to the people. It is a matter of common sense that it will portray the decision to go ahead with the deal as a matter of India’s glory and its desire to make the country a global superpower as against the designs of its opponents to block a golden opportunity. The explanations will have to be basically aimed at highlighting the party’s commitment of driving out poverty and hunger through creating infrastructure for overall development.
The problem of the Left will be basically that in opposing the deal, it may also have created public opinion against it. Though the Central Committee’s decision was very clear on the issue, it is a well-known fact that within the Left, there were problems and those practising electoral politics do not wholly agree with the style of those who have never faced elections. An early election will put the Left in a state where its numbers both in Kerala and Bengal may slide. Its worries may increase with strong prospects of Mamata Banerjee and the Trinamool Congress shifting from the NDA to the UPA. The BJP also has its hands full and internal power struggles within the Sangh parivar have weakened the saffron brigade. An early election could very well see the numbers of the saffron party slide back into two-digit figures since it faces huge anti-incumbency in the states ruled by it. Its national record also has not been outstanding.
It is true that some regional parties like the Samajwadi Party, the DMK, RJD, the Akalis and the Shiv Sena may not want a mid-term poll but sometimes compulsions of politics force decisions. A majority of MPs would not want an election. But the continuation of this government now has become an impossibility. The timing obviously for the mid-term poll will be chosen by the Congress and some of its allies. It is certain that elections will not be at the convenience of the CPM which is aiming to somehow draw a wedge between the Congress and its allies in the UPA. Much will depend on what happens in the next few weeks but so far as the UPA government and the 14th Lok Sabha is concerned, the curtains have virtually come down. Between us.