Over two years ago, during the first crisis in the UPA over the nuclear deal, I ran into a senior Congress leader on a flight. The leader had been trying to effect a rapproachment between Manmohan Singh and Prakash Karat to save the UPA.
“We have no choice,” he said. “Even if we somehow manage to do without the Left for the rest of our term, what happens after the next election?”
Did he mean that the Congress would need the Left again?
“Not only that,” he replied. “I am worried that after the next election, we will all be at the mercy of these three temperamental ladies: Jayalalithaa, Mayawati and Mamata.”
In the event, the crisis was averted that year and the UPA survived. The following year, however, Manmohan Singh dug his heels in, the Left withdrew support and pretty much everything that the leader had predicted during that conversation came to pass.
Enough has been said about the Congress and the Left - at present the Congress is trying to negotiate outside support for a minority government - but not enough has been said about the three temperamental ladies.
During the Cold War, Henry Kissinger practiced the Mad Man Theory of Politics. This stated that only a lunatic would use a nuclear weapon because the other side would retaliate, leading to a holocaust in which there were no winners. Kissinger knew that the Russians recognized this. So, the only way they would be deterred by America’s nuclear arsenal was if they believed that Richard Nixon was a lunatic, a man who would use nuclear weapons anyway despite the consequences.
It worked for Nixon and Kissinger. And I have a feeling that it will work for the three temperamental ladies. I think I will call it the Mad Woman Theory of Politics.
To form a government, the Congress needs the support of at least two of these ladies. But in every case, reasonable negotiations are impossible because all three women play the lunatic card.
Logically, Mayawati should align with the Congress. If she aligns with the BJP, then she loses the Muslim supporters she has recently gained. Moreover, Mulayam Singh links up with the Congress and gets a news lease of life. But if the SP is denied entry into the UPA, then Mulayam is finished: out of power in the state and the centre with nowhere to go.
Similarly, Jayalalithaa has much to gain from going with the Congress. Her immediate agenda is to topple the DMK government. Once the Congress allies with the AIADMK at the Centre, it will have to break its coalition in the state. At that stage, the government will lose its majority and fall. The Centre will impose President’s Rule which should allow Jayalalithaa ample opportunity to have her own people appointed as advisors to the government. And then, there will be elections which the AIADMK will win.
So it is with Mamata. Her only hope in West Bengal lies in an alliance with the Congress. And so far, the Congress has given her a good deal, denying seats to its own candidates to satisfy Mamata. Even if the Left supports a UPA government from the outside, nobody will stop her from opposing the CPM in West Bengal.
Given these considerations, it should be easy for the UPA to grab the 60-plus seats that these three ladies represent. After all, the Congress has much to offer them.
The beauty of the Mad Woman Theory of Politics, however, is that all three women can contemptuously dismiss these obvious calculations and advantages. It does not matter what is rationally in their best interests because they have chosen to portray themselves as essentially irrational and temperamental.
When it comes to negotiations, a pose of lunacy can be an enormous bargaining advantage. It worked for Nixon and Kissinger. And now, it will work for Mamata, Jayalalithaa and Mayawati.