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|April 23, 1999||
T V R Shenoy
Election it is!
Does anyone remember the aftermath of the first vote of confidence put before the Lok Sabha by Atal Bihari Vajpayee? After the prime minister declared he was setting out to Rashtrapati Bhavan to offer his resignation, the Opposition benches poured out into the lobby, screaming, "Desh ka neta kaisa ho? Deve Gowda jaisa ho!"
The hastily-patched United Front's alliance with the Congress was just as unethical three years ago as it is today. The saving grace then was that there was some alternative being offered. The work of the Government of India wasn't being consigned to limbo while politicians indulged in fun and games behind closed doors. There was a prime minister-designate waiting in the wings and there was even a common minimum programme. Yet we know the fate of the Deve Gowda and Gujral ministries despite all those advantages.
Today, none of the 270 Lok Sabha members who voted out the BJP-led government have any idea about its successor. Laloo Prasad Yadav boasted during the debate that a new ministry could be formed "in five minutes". Like most of his statements, this was frivolous. And I wonder if any of those 270 -- or their puppeteers outside Parliament -- thought about the fate of the Budget before the crashing markets reminded them.
I have written before of the parrot-like behaviour of S Muthiah of the AIADMK, and his insistence on leaving everything to his "Leader". In all honesty, it is unfair to single him out; the Congress is no better? The Congressmen in the Lok Sabha have no opinion of their own, content to leave the thinking to the Congress Working Committee. That august body in turn insists Sonia Gandhi is the only person to take a decision. How is that different from the AIADMK's behaviour? What does Sonia Gandhi want? Ideally, a government that is not dependent on any other group; but the Congress has barely 140 votes in the 12th Lok Sabha, over 170 short of a majority.
The second preference is a Congress ministry supported from outside -- but this runs afoul of powerful and ambitious men and women. A coalition presents its own set of problems. Finally, there is the option of going to a General Election with a Congress caretaker ministry at the helm.
If the first option is automatically ruled out, what of the second? Well, Jayalalitha went to town during the Vajpayee administration saying Tamil Nadu didn't have as many ministers as it should have. Can Sonia Gandhi now afford to tell the 'Supreme Revolutionary Leader' that she can't have any ministers at all?
Or take Mulayam Singh Yadav. Salman Khurshid, head of the Congress's Uttar Pradesh unit, has savagely attacked the Samajwadi Party, damning it as "casteist" and trying his best to take away the Muslim vote. The strategy, as proved by the Agra (East) by-election, has been immensely successful. Please note that Khurshid made no overtures to Mulayam Singh Yadav even after the Vajpayee ministry fell. No, he saved his sweetest manner for the Bahujan Samaj Party. (Mayawati turned him down, but that doesn't mean anything.)
Does the Samajwadi Party want more of the same -- and that when it is propping up a Congress ministry in Delhi? For his own sake, Mulayam Singh Yadav has to insist on getting his slice of the pie, meaning seats in the Union Cabinet.
Nor shall a coalition work given the number of parties who can't stand each other. The Bahujan Samaj Party hates the Samajwadi Party. The Tamil Maanila Congress vetoes the AIADMK's participation. The Janata Dal dislikes Laloo Prasad Yadav. Even the disciplined ranks of the Left Front are cracking under pressure as the Forward Bloc and the RSP mutinously declare themselves against a Congress-led ministry.
None of the recalcitrants boasts two-digit numbers in the Lok Sabha. The Bahujan Samaj Party has five, the TMC has three, the Janata Dal has six, and the combined forces of the Froward Bloc and the RSP number just seven. But the Vajpayee ministry fell for want of a single vote. Any successor, no matter who heads it, needs all these forces to come together. Even one abstention could be crucial. Even if such a government could be formed, calling it 'stable' would be the joke of the year.
Perhaps Laloo Prasad Yadav was right. The successor would indeed be a five-minute government! My best guess right now is a General Election around October. The only question that remains is who shall form the caretaker administration...
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