Count down begins for Indian elections

Global Geopolitics Net
Friday, June 27, 2008

© Copyright 2008 Malladi Rama Rao. All rights reserved.

By M Rama Rao

Delhi based Journalist

No longer there is a question mark over India’s poll date. For eleven months, the political pundits have been crystal gazing. Now after the stormy Wednesday (June 25) meeting of the ruling Congress led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and its outside supporter, the Left parties (Communist Party of India – Marxists, CPI (M), Communist Party of India, CPI, Revolutionary Socialist Party, RSP, and Forward Block, FB) it can be said their split is on course. The Congress would like to be the first to announce the break. So is the Left. Another round of absorbing fare of Reality Show to the nation as great relief from the Great India Laughter show on the TV screens.

‘The End’ will appear on the Indian political screen probably on a date Sonia Gandhi, the Congress supremo, fancies. She will do so after consulting the allies, notably Bihar centric Rashtriya Janata Dal, RJD of Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, and the Maharashtra based Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) of Federal Minister for Agriculture Sharad Pawar besides the South Indian party of DMK headed by Muthavel Karunanidhi. The battle could be some time in November- December or January- February.

As for signing of the nuclear accord with the United States, the timing will depend on the Congress’s ability to humour the Mulayam- Amar Singh duo of Samajwadi Party (SP). Their price is big brother status in Uttar Pradesh, their home turf. The Grand Old Party (GOP) will have no objection to give them their due since its reach does not go beyond mother (Sonia Gandhi) -son (Rahul Gandhi) fiefdom of Amethi and Rai Bareli in the state.


Yet another question that has become of absorbing interest is: Will Prime Minister Manmohan Singh like to face a trust vote in Parliament? He may. That question also rests as much on when the Left will formalise their separation decree as on the timing for sealing the N-deal that has been in the works for over three years. To be on the safe side, the Congress has begun to bolster its numbers as the UPA with 220 is short of 50 members for a simple majority in the 543-strong Lok Sabha, the Lower House of Parliament. The Left accounts for 59 lawmakers. Samajwadi party is a 39- member block. There are many small parties with one or two members. They have suddenly come into reckoning.

For Manmohan Singh the nuclear deal has become a bench for his place in the history books though both his critics and admirers are unanimous that he has earned the sobriquet of weakest resident at 7 Race Course Road. He appears to view the deal as his ladder to pitch fork into the Nehru league as builder of modern India in the IT age. This is the reason why he slipped into what some political pundits term as ‘satyagraha’ mode by end June and forced the Congress supremo to take the poll call.

Traditional Congressmen know they are making the biggest gamble. More so when the internal surveys have very little to cheer. Also, whatever be their public postures, allies – Pawar, Lalu, and the like- also are a bit weary of facing the electorate when nothing is going in the UPA favour. And, in fact, every thing that had happened in the past few months had brought into question the viability, bankability and saleability of Rahul card and also the Sonia card.


Hence they forced External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, whose dream of becoming a PM refuses to go beyond his initials, to engage in another round of talks with the Left. This he did the job with aplomb but the meeting turned out to be a ‘stormy’ and ‘ill-tempered’ discourse in brinkmanship with ‘no pretence’ of a dialogue.

The two sides may still have a ‘final meeting’ latest by the first week of July when the government will formally reject Left's objections on a safeguards agreement they were not shown, and declare its intent to ‘move on’ with the ratification of ‘safeguards agreement ‘ with IAEA, the nuclear watch dog body.

As pointed out at the outset, the timing of this move will depend on how soon the government can line up the support of Mulayam Singh Yadav and his ‘Amar’ Singh. The duo has tilted for the deal. It is clear from Samajwadi general secretary’s public snub of M K Pandhe, CPM politburo member. Pandhe cut his teeth in trade union world. That could be the reason why he spoke undiplomatically when he grandly declared: “Samajwadi Party should not back the UPA government on the Indo-US nuclear deal because Muslims are against it and any such move will lead to minority votes slipping away from Mulayam Singh Yadav”.


Prakash Karat, the Marxist chief honcho, quickly distanced the party from the Pandhe speak. The statement of M K Pandhe is ‘not the views of the party’, he said in a terse one line statement mailed to journalists on the political beat. But the damage has been done. And the Marxists will have to live down the image of communalising an accord which is primarily a strategic issue and energy tool.

Said Mulayam: ‘Those issuing such threats have seen many Muslims and I have also seen many Muslims’.

‘We would definitely term as unfortunate and regrettable any attempt to communalise a national issue like the nuclear deal’, Congress spokesperson Jayanthi Natarajan remarked at her daily briefing hours before UPA-Left committee on N-deal met at Pranab’s home, a short distance away from Pandhe’s long time office cum residence behind Parliament House..
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was quick to fire at the Marxists on all cylinders. ‘Left parties have been exposed. The CPM says Mulayam Singh will anguish Muslim voters if he supported the nuclear deal. This is the line they have been pursuing all the time and they are communal’, thundered Muppavarapu Venkaiah Naidu, BJP’s election-in-charge.

He pressed ahead. ‘Deal or no deal, it has nothing to do with Hindus, Christians, Muslims or Sikhs. The issue has to be decided by taking into account the interests of the nation’.


Till Pandhe happened, the Left stand, as articulated by the Marxist Ayatollahs in the Left camp was: ‘Mythical energy claims are being made in order to promote a bad nuclear deal. Energy is just a cover. The real intent is India-US strategic ties’.

Also the taunt: ‘Nuclear energy has very little to do with oil - it cannot be used as a substitute for oil, unless the government experts have found a new way to burn uranium directly in cars and buses. The spectre of uranium shortage has been created only to push a deal that is not in India's national interest’.

What strengthened the Left case in a manner of speaking was benign neglect of uranium mining. ‘The government, either deliberately or because of a failure of planning, did not invest in expanding the existing uranium mines or opening new mines’, the Marxist politburo charged just a couple of days before the June 25 show down.

Deafening silence greeted the charge from the otherwise hyper sensitive Shastri Bhavan, the headquarters of Information & Broadcasting Ministry and its print media interface – Press Information Bureau (PIB).

Pandhe speak is bound to provide the opening Mulayam is looking for to dump his UNPA (United National Progressive Alliance) experiment. This third front of out of work politicians and parties will be meeting on July 3 in Delhi.


By then the front may end up as Andhra Pradesh centric Telugu Desam Party (TDP) show all the way. If the SP is wooed into the Congress camp with some carrots, Jharkhand Party of Babulal Marandi and Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) are expected to seal their deal with the BJP. The UNPA never lived upto its promise from the word go. Jayalalithaa, the first chief, walked out with her All India Anna DMK, even before the alliance held its second meeting. Then came the turn of Indian National Lok Dal leader Om Prakash Chautala, who gave up his new role as the sheet anchor after Narendra Modi made his critics eat the humble pie in Gujarat last year.

This scenario, which is to the delight of byte hungry TV journos and the quote thirsty print journos, may change if any of the lead players develop cold feet. And turn to the palmists, astrologers and the kundalis for the date with the ballot. How much of their calculations will be acceptable to the resident astrologer at the Nirvachan Sadan, N. Gopalaswamy, the chief election commissioner, who holds a degree in astrology. Well, that is a big if.

In any case, politicians of all hues know that they cannot possibly avoid the battle of ballots. It is due in any case by May 22, 2009. The months of April –May are generally a period of soaring disappointments for the ruling class, as the BJP led NDA had learnt the hard way five years ago with their India Shining losing its sheen.

Muthavel Karunanidhi will be in Delhi over the next few days to try his hand at a patchwork. He is the seniormost leader in the UPA and enjoys excellent rapport with the Left. Karat and CPI’s national Secretary D Raja made a personal request for his intervention. DMK leader needs both the Left and the Congress as his props for the survival of his minority government in Tamilnadu.

“I have asked the Left not to take any decision (till he speaks to Sonia, Manmohan et al) as it would disrupt the alliance and help the communal forces,” Karunanidhi said.

As if in response, Karat offered to allow wrapping up the safeguards agreement ‘if the government gives a written commitment that it would not operationalise’ the nuclear deal. The offer had no takers from the PMO.

In the prevailing scenario, not much can be expected from the Dravidian mediation. At the best he may delay the inevitable tryst with elections. In such a case, Prime Minister will not go to G-8 summit (July 8) in Tokyo where he has a date with lame duck President George W Bush of the United States. And he will depute ‘PM’ Pranab Mukherjee.

About the Author

Malladi Rama Rao is an analyst and writer on the Indian political scene and geo-political and security issues of South Asia. He directs a Weekly Feature Service in English, Syndicate Features, in colloboration with his wife Vaniram. He is also the India Editor of Asian Tribune.


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