The Opposition unity demonstrated by the coming together of several political parties on Budget Day should serve as a cause for great concern for the government in general and the Congress in particular. Historically, Opposition unity has always been a matter of grave threat to the Congress.
In 1977, the Congress lost power to a united Opposition. Again in 1989, the Congress, which had won more than 400 seats in 1984, was humbled by the combined might of Opposition parties. The BJP, which formed the NDA, also thrived on the support it received from a large number of regional outfits, that is until in 2004, when Sonia Gandhi, leading an alliance of secular outfits, was able to install the UPA.
What was witnessed in Parliament on Friday was unprecedented as it was for the first time that the Opposition walked out during the Budget speech. Outside Parliament, even some UPA allies like Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav made their resentment known. Though the BSP has not reacted so far, it is unlikely to back the government on the petrol and diesel hike issue. Among the allies, Mamata Banerjee seemed unhappy, her party demanding a roll-back on the oil price rise. The DMK also wants a roll-back.
As far as economics goes, many experts have hailed the 2010-11 Budget. They feel that it is a step in the right direction and an attempt by a seasoned politician to break away from the past and address present day problems. However, its political fallout can have consequences, which the Congress seems unprepared to face.
For a long time, the Congress has had no strategy to deal with crises. Political managers are content settling their own scores and are not farsighted. In July 2008, the government may have been toppled over the nuclear issue had the Opposition voted in strength.
Poor political management has been extremely pronounced during the past few years and seeks to undo all the good work of the party president. It is evident that the Congress’ back-channel contacts with Opposition parties have virtually dried up. The party’s popularity is on the decline and its managers are directly responsible for it. Unless there is political management, the attempts to make our economy vibrant will not happen.
In parliamentary democracy, floor coordination, both with allies and the Opposition, is essential and short-term measures do not hold good. After 1991, the Congress has been the only party that has managed to cross the 200-mark in 2009. But it still has a very limited understanding about political management.
If Pranab Mukherjee was to present the kind of Budget he presented, enough spadework should have been done both in terms of creating awareness and managing allies. What is likely to happen now is that even though the Rajya Sabha’s role during the Budget exercise is minimal, the Centre is going to face some embarrassing moments there. In the Lok Sabha, the abilities of the parliamentary affairs minister and his colleagues, too, will be under severe stress.
The government may seek to divide the Opposition by introducing the Women’s Reservation Bill and hope that the BJP will support it. It is unlikely that without extracting its pound of flesh, the BJP will follow the official line since this would weaken its own position as the head of the Opposition.
The Opposition is playing a tactical game. When Sushma Swaraj attacked Sharad Pawar during the price rise debate, it was perhaps to test whether the Congress will come to the rescue of its ally and also to send a message to Pawar that he would not be acceptable as the leader of a coalition, in case the government he is a part of comes under threat.
This may be the Budget session, but it is a season of politics for all concerned. It is a wake-up call for the Congress. Between us.