Predicting the unpredictable Indian politics
My favourite saying about Indian politics is that all logical analysis about our politics fails because there is no logic to Indian politics. That at least, is the excuse I use when I get things wrong – as I frequently do. (For instance, I was sure that A.B. Vajpayee was going to be re-elected and was startled when the Congress won.)
But this week I’m going to stick my neck out and make a series of predictions about what the immediate future holds for Indian politics – in the aftermath of the Presidential election.
Pranab Mukherjee will win the Presidential election. Purno Sangma will lose and will while away the rest of his days in North Eastern politics. But, during the campaign, the UPA’s opponents will treat Sangma as the political equivalent of a suicide bomber by using the Presidential election as a way of raising corruption charges against the UPA, attacking Pranab Mukherjee personally, etc. This won’t help Sangma but will keep an anti-government agenda alive.
India will not get a Finance Minister for the next few months. Instead, Manmohan Singh will try and use his own international credibility to convince the world that the India story is not over.
As part of this move, expect to see some policy initiatives and changes. The Vodafone issue may come up again and the government could either reverse its stand or agree to some compromise formula.
Relations between Mamata Banerjee and the West Bengal Congress will worsen. But relations between her and Centre will not necessarily get worse. They may even get better.
Mamata’s grouse is not with the Congress at the Centre or with Manmohan Singh or Sonia Gandhi. Her problem is with Congressmen from Bengal. Till recently, Pranab Mukherjee was Number One on her hate list. She believed that a) he was very close to the CPM about whom she is pathological b) that he was denying West Bengal the financial bail-out it needed even though he had been very cooperative to the Left Front government and c) that not only did he drive her out of the Congress, but continues to treat her with contempt even today.
With Pranab out of the picture that might change. And if Manmohan Singh offers her a bail-out package she likes, then she might seem less hostile to the UPA.
Equally, Mamata might get out of bed from the wrong side one morning and decide she hates everybody because they are all Maoist agents. She is not the world’s most stable person. But to the extent that she functions rationally, this is the most likely scenario.
There will have to be a Cabinet reshuffle. But this is still some months away.
Manmohan Singh will have to decide if he wants to shift P. Chidambaram to Finance. PC is the obvious choice and he wants the job. Besides his thinking on economic matters is more in tune with Manmohan’s than Pranab Mukherjee’s was. But what happens to Home? There is no obvious choice for the Home Ministry if PC is moved.
Manmohan’s own instinct is to drop as few ministers as possible in all circumstances. One reason why the Cabinet reshuffles have been largely meaningless so far is because he hates disappointing people or holding existing ministers to account.
So it is hard to predict whether he will actually decide to wield the knife this time and sack the many useless ministers who litter his team.
But my guess is that, under pressure from the party, Manmohan will have to agree to a more comprehensive reshuffle. This will be the last Cabinet reshuffle of consequence during the life of this government so it will be used to change the face of the government by inducting young people and by promoting existing young ministers.
The Congress needs to find a young team that will take it into the next election. And this is the party’s last chance to do it.
Mulayam and the Congress will not be openly hostile to each other. But the Congress will be reluctant to allow him into the UPA as a full-fledged ally with Cabinet representation.
No matter what happened in the Assembly election, the Congress still believes that it can do reasonably well in UP at the next parliamentary election. It also believes that, two years from now, there will be anti-incumbency against the SP in Uttar Pradesh. So there is no profit in aligning too closely with Mulayam.
But if things go very wrong with Mamata then the Congress may have no choice except to grasp Mulayam’s hand, no matter how reluctantly.
I’ve tried to avoid long-term predictions so my time frame is from this week to, say, October. Let’s see how right I am. Judging by my previous dismal record, there is no reason to expect a high strike rate.
But, hey, who knows?