Millennium Post

India now a battlefield of leaders

The Congress, humbled as never before, has now realised what its post-2009 complacency and lethargic governance had cost the country in macro-economic terms – persistent inflation, rising fiscal deficits, declining manufacture and slowing growth – while also rendering itself vulnerable to allegations of graft in discretionary allocations of public resources for private gain. India was fast losing its attractiveness as preferred investment destination along with threats of credit downgrading by global rating agencies hanging over the economy.

It took a considerable time for the Congress and prime minister Manmohan Singh to acknowledge ground realities and to arrive at a decisive moment to undo the self-inflicted damage and reverse the odium of ‘policy paralysis’ it had been charged with by not only corporates at home but also by global economy watchers. No wonder, in desperate fashion, the Congress-led UPA-II, launched its ‘bold’ reform steps from mid-September, ignoring howls of protests from some of its power-sharing allies, chiefly TMC of Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal Chief Minister, as well as from across the broad political spectrum.

Banerjee has walked out of UPA-II and is determined to fight the ‘anti-people’ policies of the Congress on a national plane. This may, however, become a dubious quest, considering her own unedifying record at the Centre (Railways) and in West Bengal rule.

Meanwhile, an unfazed Congress leadership and government, toughening themselves for any eventuality, have operationalised the decision to allow 51 percent FDI in multi-brand retail within a conditional framework, giving an option to states, for what it maintains is a ‘revolutionary leap for Indian economy’ which would benefit farmers and create jobs. Such tall claims would be put to test in the coming year or two, before 2014, as such investors would enjoy longer time-lines to meet their commitments.

The BJP, which paralysed Parliament’s monsoon session over the ‘Coalgate’ scam demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, hopes for the fall of the UPA-II in due course from the weight of ‘its own deeds’. A nationwide bandh on 20 September, called separately by the BJP as well as by other regional parties and the Left against diesel price hike, restricted supply of subsidised LPG, and allowing FDI in retail sector, evoked a total response in some states, mostly BJP-ruled, and was on lower key in many other states.

Regional parties had their own approach to the bandh, which was not supported by TMC in West Bengal, given Banerjee’s aversion for ‘bandhs’ though Left parties staged protests, or Mayawati’s BSP in UP. JD(U) of Sharad Yadav, a partner in BJP-led NDA, joined the protest in Delhi along with BJP leaders. Ruling AIADMK in Tamil Nadu remained non-committal while a key ally of UPA, Karunanidhi’s DMK, observed the

Mulayam Singh Yadav headed the other protest demonstration with CPM leader Prakash Karat and other Left leaders in New Delhi and all of whom including Chandrababu Naidu of Telugu Desam courted arrest. The SP leader kept his distance from the parallel BJP protests underlining his resistance to ‘communal forces’ but he gloated over non-BJP parties coming together on the occasion and signalled it as the emergence of the Third Front. But cutting across ideological barriers, Left leaders like Sitaram Yechury and CPI leader A B Bardhan turned up at the BJP rally which Prakash Karat refused to join. In the Rajya Sabha, some of the Left leaders have been making common cause with BJP in its outbursts against and demands on UPA-II.

Mulayam Singh Yadav says he has no plans at present to withdraw support from outside for the UPA-II, though he would remain strongly opposed to the diesel price hikes. ‘We are supporting the Government only to stop communal forces.... If UPA Government does not roll back its recent decisions immediately, we will announce together a strategy on a big agitation’.

Lacking a majority of its own from the beginning, despite the Congress topping with 205 seats in the 15th Lok Sabha, UPA-II inclusive of TMC and DMK had thus far to count on outside support from both SP and BSP. Both these UP majors have kept UPA-II in suspense over their evolving attitudes. BSP is having a meeting of its members on 9 October to decide on the party’s strategy vis-a-vis UPA. But Mulayam Singh Yadav turns volatile and his varied utterances can hardly provide comfort of sustained support to UPA-II even till 2014.

If the UPA leadership has finally decided to stand up and advance investment-led growth policies with positive impact on job creation, and also embark on a path of fiscal consolidation, a vital ingredient for containing inflation and lowering interest rates, irrespective of political fall-out, it would do good both for the Congress and the image of UPA. [IPA]
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