Singh may not be King again

When the UPA government swung into action last week with a slew of economic “reform” measures, parallels were drawn with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s 2009 gambit on the India-US nuclear deal.

Not only Singh managed to overcome the Left’s opposition to the deal, but his party returned to power with a surprisingly improved margin in the elections. His supporters cheered: “Singh is King.”

They are hoping the economist-turned-politician will be able to repeat the feat.

Just as the decision on the nuclear deal pushed the Left parties to part ways with the UPA, the first casualty of last week’s back-to-back announcements came on Tuesday — Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress announced it was quitting UPA.

The similarities end there, however.

All eyes are now set on the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party. If any one of them goes the Trinamool way, then it may well be the end of the road for Singh and the UPA.

Unlike Trinamool, neither the SP nor the BSP has so far served any ultimatum on the government although both have opposed the hike in diesel prices and FDI in retail.

But Mamata’s announcement on Tuesday, and if she doesn’t do a volte face, has unexpectedly altered the political setting.

Both SP and BSP will be under pressure from their respective political constituencies to do what Mamata did.

Interestingly, sections in both SP and BSP share the same reason in believing that their respective parties will benefit if parliamentary elections are held now, instead of 2014. Six months into power, the government of Akhilesh Yadav is already seeing anti-incumbency on the rise. So if the SP waits longer, it runs the risk of not being able to build on the popular mandate from the assembly elections held earlier this year and be able to play a key role in the next government in New Delhi.

Likewise, some BSP leaders think there is already enough dissatisfaction among the people about the six-month-old SP government and that the party would be able cash in on such disenchantment if elections are held now.

The BSP has said that an October 10 meeting of its leaders will review the party’s relationship with the UPA. It will be interesting to see how Mulayam Singh reacts to Mamata’s decision. It may not be a surprise to see the SP and BSP eventually get into a race to withdraw support to Singh’s govenment.

As for BJP, the party’s members in the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the 2G scam walked of it on Tuesday, signalling the main opposition party will do everything it should to precipitate early parliamentary elections.

Moreover, unlike the nuclear deal that resonated little with voters, the issues this time have an immediate bearing on livelihood of hundreds of millions of people.

Coming as they do at a time when the UPA has lost much of its credibility because of a spate of scandals and its inability to curb inflation and unemployment, the so-called reform measures are unlikely to make yield any dividend – either for the broader economy or for the ruling coalition.

Just as every bollywood hit doesn’t get a sequel, the odds are against a repeat of the success that the PM had in his first tenure.

Alas! Singh may not be King again.

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