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Poll countdown begins

india Updated: Sep 03, 2007 00:43 IST
Pankaj Vohra

The truce between the Left and the UPA on the Indo-US nuclear deal is deceptive. It may have helped in prolonging the tenure of the government by a short period, but a mid-term poll in early 2008 appears to be a foregone conclusion. A number of measures announced by the government like the setting up of an Equal Opportunity Commission as a follow-up to the Sachar Committee report point towards poll preparations. In the coming weeks, a few more similar steps may be initiated.

The Left, which has been on the offensive ever since this government was formed in May 2004, are now on the defensive and CPM general secretary Prakash Karat seems to have mellowed down. In fact, he recently said in Calcutta that it was not a victory or a loss for either of the two parties. Realpolitik often helps in changing perceptions and the Left has recognised this. It is reflected in the body language of its leaders and in the fact that they have agreed to the appointment of a 14-member committee to deal with the concerns related to the treaty.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh continues to maintain his original stance. In Mumbai on Friday, he emphasised that India should not miss the opportunity to get on to the global bus. The PM enjoys the full support of the Congress president and UPA chairperson, Sonia Gandhi, and is in no mood to give in to any kind of pressure. For him, India’s good is more important than political expediency.

The PM also has the support of the scientific community and statements made by Homi Sethna, M.R. Sriniwas and others should be encouraging.

For the first time, the Left perhaps knows that their so-called rationality does not find endorsement from large sections of the people and a world exists beyond the borders of Kerala and West Bengal, the two states where it has a good presence. But they should know that this support base could shrink if a pragmatic view of the situation is not taken.

With the BJP already on the backfoot and in no position to put up a spirited fight thanks to the differences within the Sangh parivar, the UPA must be seeing this as its best chance to renew and strengthen the mandate. The present issue is not about an ideological conflict, as some in the Left may be seeing it to be, but about looking ahead for the betterment of the country. The argument that India may become a global power even without the US is true but we need to accelerate the pace. The nuclear deal will be like an overbridge, which will help us reach our destination faster.

The Left, which talks about the treaty impinging the country’s sovereignty, must realise that all parties are equally concerned about our sovereignty. No party is more patriotic than others and to even assume that others are unpatriotic would be a political folly. Had the question of sovereignty been in doubt, the Congress would have been the first to raise objections.

It is clear that the initiative of holding a mid-term poll has been snatched away from the Left by the UPA and the date will depend on how the big players within the coalition view the timing. It is true that no one in the present Parliament wants a mid-term poll, but sometimes circumstances compel parties to take decisions in order to resolve some inherent contradictions. This is such a situation.

It is, therefore, not surprising to see the government getting ready for the polls: governors have already been appointed and a 6 per cent hike in the dearness allowance was announced recently.

Other promises made in the common minimum programme may be implemented. Some key transfers and postings can happen and the Congress may go in for a revamp within some of its state units. The party may also change a couple of chief ministers to put it into election gear.

There is a discussion within some quarters of the UPA on whether the polls should be timed with the Gujarat elections or with the Himachal polls or perhaps after the budget. The decision will primarily depend on when to catch the BJP and the NDA at its most vulnerable point. In Gujarat, dissensions have put Narendra Modi on the backfoot. If the present problems continue it may make it very difficult for BJP stalwarts like L.K. Advani to find the going easy at Gandhinagar or elsewhere in the state. The Nanavati Commission, which may also submit its report, may also prove to be an embarrassment of sorts if the findings are adverse.

There are also indications that the RSS may also have a change of guard in the next few weeks: General secretary Mohan Bhagwat could replace K. Sudarshan as the sarsanghchalak. If that happens, the emphasis of the Sangh may again be on strengthening the BJP ideologically. The new leadership will lay emphasis on strengthening the organisational structure, even at the cost of losing the polls.

To sum up, the 14-member committee has been formed to temporarily give an impression that all’s well between the Left and the UPA. But in reality it is not. This committee will go into various concerns but the government is in no mood to relent. A confrontation and a mid-term poll is a certainty. Between us.