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Time to practise art of the possible

Time to practise art of the possible
Political tensions continuing unabated with the washout of the monsoon session of the Parliament and the prospect of the next election being advanced before 2014. Regional parties have ambitiously begun galvanising themselves with their own agendas, hoping to capture strategic space and voice in the emerging post-poll scenario. A general assumption is that neither the Congress, leading United Progressive Alliance [UPA], nor the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP]-led National Democratic Alliance [NDA], will be able to secure the requisite majority to form the next government by itself, so that stronger regional parties would surely come into reckoning.

UPA ally, Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal chief minister, has declared her party will contest all the 42 Lok Sabha seats, and Mulayam Singh Yadav, whose Samajwadi Party [SP] returned to power in UP early this year, pines for securing maximum representation for his party. No less lofty is AIADMK chief minister Jayalalithaa’s goal to bag all the 39 seats, if it could, in Tamil Nadu.

Other non-Congress, non-BJP parties have their plans, and in Andhra Pradesh, where the Congress gained a stronghold in 2004 and continues to wield power despite mass defections, the Telangana turmoil and reservation for backward classes in elections which Telugu Desam Party [TDP] of Chandrababu Naidu fights for, pose challenges for the ruling party. The Congress leadership needs to work out a survival strategy in this major southern state, with assembly elections due in 2014.

Dravidian parties, with Jayalalithaa at the forefront, are vying with one another in condemning the Sri Lankan government for its failures so far to fully rehabilitate Tamil victims of the ruthless war it had launched to vanquish LTTE in 2009 and to guarantee their political rights. Tamil Nadu is also greatly concerned over recurring attacks by
Sri Lankan navy on its fishermen on high seas in Indian waters.

Chief Minister Jayalalithaa has been stealing a march over her arch-rival, DMK leader Karunanidhi, in raising the pitch about the plight of Sri Lankan Tamils, and called on the Centre to stop training of Sri Lankan defence personnel in TN or elsewhere and send them back. The Centre, after some reservations, agreed to send back two officers undergoing training at Wellington Defence Services Staff College in the state. She went a step further to cancel friendly football matches arranged between a visiting Sri Lankan school team and a Chennai school, contending it ‘hurt the sentiments of Tamils’, and ordered the visiting team should be sent back. The hostile atmosphere created has electoral calculations for all these Tamil Nadu parties.

Karunanidhi had sought to upstage her by convening an ‘international’ conference of Tamil Eelam Supporters Organisation [TESO], held in August with a plethora of resolutions on the rights and future of Tamils in Sri Lanka. Karunanidhi is desperately trying to recover from DMK’s humiliating reverses in 2011 Assembly elections. He banks on, in alliance with Congress, to checkmating Jayalalithaa in her ambition for a landslide victory in the coming Lok Sabha election.

Setting the stage for AIADMK to make ‘great strides in national politics’, she summoned the party executive and asked the cadres to work unitedly in strengthening the organisation from now on ‘to become a force to determine who will be the next prime minister. We will be part of the Central government to be formed next’, she said.

In Andhra Pradesh, the BJP stands for the separation of Telangana and said it would form part of its election manifesto. Hoping to create a second power base in South, after Karnataka, BJP has let its cadres actively participate in the pro-Telangana protests in AP and New Delhi. A section of Congress leadership at the Centre is hopeful of tiding over the challenge of Jagan Congress, not ruling out the possibility of return of dissidents including Jagan Reddy.

Telangana Congress MPs, as well as those from the coastal and Rayalaseema regions, have been meeting the Union Home minister and other central leaders to press their respective points of view on the bifurcation of the state.

The Telangana Rashtriya Samiti leader K Chandrasekhar Rao has, however, struck a note of confidence that there would be a decision on Telangana by the Centre before the end of September.

Apart from Telangana, the vexed issue is the demand for larger reservation quota for backward classes, raised by the TDP leader Chandrababu Naidu – akin to what Mulayam Singh Yadav is trying to ensure for other backward classes in UP. Naidu has gone a step further to demand BC reservations in legislative bodies as well and has been trying to rally support from SP, Janata Dal [United] and other parties. TDP intends to give 100 tickets for BCs in the 2014 Assembly elections.

The AP High Court’s order on 4 September 4 – directing the state government to conduct local body elections within three months maintaining the reservation quota for SCs/STs and BC at not above 50 per cent – has put the ruling party in a bind, as it would mean having to reduce its current BC reservation quota from 34 per cent to 24 per cent.

The High Court bench frowned upon ‘excessive reservations’ in elective bodies holding it would be unconstitutional.

Chief Minister Kiran Reddy who said his government was ready to hold elections within three months, is having second thoughts as the Court direction would amount to slashing current BC quota from 34 to 24 per cent. Government also cannot reduce the percentage of reservations for SCs and STs fixed at 26.5 per cent. So far, government has been providing a total reservation of 60 per cent.

To get round the High Court’s order, the only option is for the state assembly to pass a resolution urging the Centre to bring about a constitutional amendment to increase the cap on political reservations from 50 to 60 per cent. This would help Congress retain the confidence of backward classes for whom both TDP and the Jagan Congress are ready to set apart 100 and 147 seats respectively in the forthcoming assembly elections. [IPA]
S Sethuraman

S Sethuraman

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