The eventful two-day special session of Parliament where Prime Minister Manmohan Singh got the endorsement for going ahead with the Indo-US nuclear deal has several clear messages for the UPA and the NDA. Although the government won the trust vote (thanks to cross voting by BJP and TDP MPs), the session has seen the emergence of a Third Front that can very well spoil the party for both other groups unless some immediate remedial measures are taken by them to consolidate their respective positions.
The threat from the Third Front has become very real. The proposed formation will have as its spearhead BSP chief Mayawati, whose vote-catching potential can give her rivals sleepless nights. She has certainly arrived on the national centre-stage and it will require all the skills of experienced leaders in the UPA and NDA to keep her at bay. Many political observers may debate over the impact of Mayawati on national politics. But no one can deny that she can cut both ways — win seats for her supporters or play a spoiler for those who may claim to be in a good position.
Therefore, the UPA should stop celebrating its victory in Parliament and get down to serious business. The trust vote should be reason enough for the Congress to go in for a major overhaul. Parliament has expressed faith in the Prime Minister who should expediously carry out a major re-shuffle exercise in his Cabinet to retain or include only those Ministers who can deliver in this election year. <b1>
It is virtually certain now that the UPA will project Manmohan Singh as its prime ministerial candidate before the polls, even though Sonia Gandhi shall continue to be the main and principal campaigner. The UPA, particularly the Congress, has reached this far only because of her and she should assert herself and dispel the impression that she was a prisoner of indecision, primarily because many of her advisors have succeeded in convincing her that status quo is the best strategy. Under the circumstances, she is in full control and, therefore, she must exercise her superior position to show the door to the non-performers both in the government and the party.
It is well known now that the Prime Minister and the Congress President share a very good chemistry. It should now be used to change perceptions about this government and some of its members. It’s a good idea if the Congress goes in for a ‘Kamaraj-type’ plan and accepts the resignations of all of its Ministers in addition to party office-bearers. Only the efficient ones should be retained and the non-performing ones changed.
In what would send a positive message to the rank and file, all Ministers and office-bearers below the age of 70 and members of Rajya Sabha should be made to contest the next Lok Sabha polls. The bottom line of this exercise would be that no one can take the Congress president for granted. At the core of this exercise will be the truth that an absolute majority of Congressmen owe their seats in Parliament to Sonia Gandhi. And even if they are dropped, it would make no material difference to the party, something that may be contrary to the advice she may have received from her advisors. The change may provide an opportunity to get in younger people who, along with Rahul Gandhi, may build the party of the future. The Congress must first identify all those functionaries in the government and the organisation who evoke an adverse reaction from the rank and file. Both the PM and Sonia Gandhi have to go about it in a pragmatic manner and not carry out the re-shuffle merely for tokenism — or to bring in a Shibu Soren — or even to simply accommodate the Samajwadi Party and one or two parties.
The BJP must have discovered to its horror how far removed from reality its strategy was to topple this government on the floor of the House. After having lost the Opposition space, first to the CPI(M) and then to Mayawati, the saffron brigade was unable to control its own flock. It is both a reflection on the state of affairs within the party as well on its Prime Ministerial candidate, L.K. Advani, who also suffered the humiliation of being virtually mauled by the Prime Minister.
It is not certain whether Advani will heed the advice of the PM and change his astrologer. But what appears to be happening is that the RSS may be having second thoughts about projecting him for the top job even at this late stage. The Sangh is unhappy that the BJP has allowed the communists to get an upper hand and is aghast over Advani’s utterance of ‘Allah’ at least six times at a meet of the BJP’s party women minority cell, a paradigm shift from Ram and the Hindutva agenda.
The RSS has conveyed its displeasure to the party bosses. An exercise for damage control has also started and top RSS functionaries are believed to have met senior BJP leaders over the weekend in Delhi to ascertain their views on how to save the party. The RSS is also unhappy that BJP MPs tried to lower the sanctity of Parliament by displaying currency notes on the floor of the House. The scandal appears to have boomeranged on the BJP. The RSS is more concerned about finding out the reality behind the allegations that the MPs who cross-voted had been given party tickets after they paid crores to senior leaders over and above the wishes of the state units.
How the two major parties act will depend on their internal positions. But they have to accept that Mayawati and the Third Front can upset any calculations. It is not going to be easy to keep her at bay. Between us.