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The Congress must grasp the nettle

Invoking the Congress president’s name, the government managed to get the [women’s reservation] Bill passed with the help of the Left parties and the BJP in the Rajya Sabha but ended up without some of its supporters, writes Pankaj Vohra.

india Updated: May 09, 2010 22:38 IST
Pankaj Vohra
Pankaj Vohra
Hindustan Times

The central government’s worries have not ended with the budget session of Parliament. Instead of emerging stronger from the session, the UPA appears to have further weakened. The numbers by which the government defeated the cut motions in Lok Sabha are deceptive. They do not reflect the tug-of-war going on within the alliance and among its allies. The UPA is also the sole beneficiary of the BJP’s weak leadership. In fact, the seemingly good position of the ruling alliance is on account of the failure of the Opposition to put forward a viable alternative.

During this session, the UPA has come under immense pressure from within on several issues. The inability of the government to assert itself in no uncertain terms came to the fore when it had to cobble together the numbers to prove on the floor of the House that it still commanded a comfortable majority during voting on the cut motion. Normally, no one would have thought that the government that came to power less than 11 months ago would have to take a majority test.

The Congress alone had 207 members (after the polls) and, together with its allies, the combination faced no threat whatsoever. However, the government has been through a lot of phases that it could have avoided while sending out a message that its writ was final. Unfortunately, shoddy political management and the failure to anticipate problems, along with internal dissensions, have created an image of dissonance.

The differences within the UPA and with its allies started soon after the Congress unilaterally decided to push the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha on March 8 this year. The intention behind the Bill may have been noble but its timing was wrong. No contentious bill should have been introduced before the passage of the Finance Bill. The result was that both the RJD, led by Lalu Prasad, and the SP, headed by Mulayam Singh Yadav, decided to oppose the UPA.

Invoking the Congress president’s name, the government managed to get the Bill passed with the help of the Left parties and the BJP in the Rajya Sabha but ended up without some of its supporters. A situation arose in which the UPA had to take the support of its arch rival Mayawati to win the vote on the cut motions decisively.

But the supreme irony was that the Bill, which seemed to have divided the UPA/allies, was not taken up in the Lok Sabha during this session. Maybe the belated realisation that it could further divide the coalition or lead to differences within the party may have been behind the decision to put it off. In private, many Congress leaders are heaving a sigh of relief since they considered the Bill to be a ‘virtual death warrant’ of their political ambitions.

The session also saw the NCP boss, Sharad Pawar, facing flak for alleged wrongdoings within the Cricket Board, which he heads. The fall-out of the cricketgate scandal was that one minister, Shashi Tharoor, had to quit. Further repercussions of this affair are still not clear but cricketing relations have not helped in cementing political alliances. The spectrum scandal has also left its shadow on the integrity of the central government and attempts to clear Telecom Minister A. Raja’s name have not succeeded so far. His party, the DMK, has conveyed to the prime minister that their minister cannot be touched.

In addition, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress is unhappy with the Congress for letting it down in West Bengal. The party has now decided to contest the civic polls on its own when contesting them together would have sent a stronger message to the people of West Bengal ahead of the assembly polls.

The road ahead is rocky unless the top leadership takes some bold and firm decisions on its policies and programmes. The UPA is a coalition and in order to make it succeed, the Congress, which is the senior partner, must always follow the coalition dharma. Between us.

First Published: May 09, 2010 22:29 IST