UPA dialing M for Mercy!
Are early elections a possibility? Mamata Banerjee’s decision to withdraw support to the UPA at the Centre has triggered afresh the old debate. The studied ambivalence of the Congress-led regime’s outside supporters—the SP and the BSP—has only compounded the uncertainty.
The government can survive if it rolls back decisions that got Mamata’s goat: hike in diesel-LPG prices and FDI in multi-brand retail. But that wouldn’t be survival. It will be plain and simple suicide.
Life on a ventilator! That cannot be an acceptable deal for the government seeking a way out of myriad scams and a protracted policy paralysis.
For her part, the Trinamool chief hasn’t left any room for compromise. The language she used against the UPA while declaring withdrawal of support was no different from the BJP’s and the Left’s. She said the government took the decisions without consulting her party and to divert attention from the coal scam.
Mamata invoking coalgate to buttress her case was a trifle rich. If repelled by taint, she should have quit UPA in response to Anna Hazare’s appeal at the height of his anti-graft movement. Her parting comments on the Manmohan Singh dispensation were proof that she fought the UPA out of competition with the Left in West Bengal.
In contrast, the SP and the BSP have desisted crossing the Rubicon the way Mamata did to express disapproval of the Congress’s reforms push. Unlike the TMC, they are circumspect, needing perhaps some more time to gauge the consequences of early polls.
Arch adversaries in Uttar Pradesh that sends 80 members to the Lok Sabha, the SP’s Mulayam Singh and the BSP’s Mayawati will calibrate their strategies to deny electoral advantage to each other. For the present, Mulayam’s more comfortable with the idea of early polls than Mayawati, who’d want the nascent SP regime in the State to pick up anti-incumbency before an electoral showdown.
The creditworthiness and the longevity of the UPA regime will depend largely on the Congress’s ability to exploit the SP-BSP rivalry. The deal it strikes with either or both cannot be at the expense of FDI in multi-brand retail where states have the discretion to decide whether or not to open the sector to foreign investors. The give-and-take will have to be restricted to a partial rollback of diesel and LPG prices.
Compared to Trinamool’s 19, the SP has 22 seats in the Lok Sabha and the BSP 21. The government will be safe if it retains their backing. But as allies or outside supporters, Mulayam and Mayawati will be as difficult to handle as Mamata was.
Depending on just one of the two for survival will be dicey. The UPA must have the backing of both to play one against the other while fighting policy inertia or fighting back early elections.
All this might be easier said than done. But Mamata’s exit has greatly restricted the Congress’s political options. It can’t have a lame duck existence in Delhi and yet hope to win the BJP ruled Himachal and Gujarat by the year end.