Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Congress Left In The Lurch

By Roger Alexander

The Left is back in fashion.

Even with Manmohan Singh who hated being a “bonded slave” of the comrades. He now "regrets" having parted ways with the Left.

And Rahul Gandhi, who wants “to keep communal forces at bay” with the very people he called "obsolete" just the other day.

And Sharad Pawar, who is shouting from the rooftops that “no government can be formed without the support of the Left.”

And Lalu Prasad and Ramvilas Paswan who get nostalgic about “past friendship”.

And Amar Singh now wants an “urgent meeting” with Prakash Karat.

And Kapil Sibal. And Jayanti Natrajan. And Prannoy Roy. And Rajdeep Sardesai. And Arnab Goswami...The list is long and interesting.

All insist the Left has "no choice" but to support the Congress. According to them, "politics is the art of the possible."

Indeed, so loud is the clamour to do business with the Left parties and their allies in the Third Front that one wonders what happened to Rahul Gandhi's brave words of taking the Congress back to the halcyon days of one-party rule.

So what gives?

It is evident that with the five-phase election now over, the Congress has got the heebie-jeebies. Gone is the bravado and swagger of the five past years. And as the day of reckoning on May 16 approaches, the ruling party is literally clutching at straws.

Nothing illustrates this better than Rahul Gandhi's craven overtures to J Jayalalithaa, Chandrababu Naidu, Nitish Kumar and, above all, to the Left Front even before the election process is complete.

The Congress, of course, is an old practitioner at chicanery, back-stabbing, underhand deals, and double-cross. Remember Manmohan Singh jauntily flashing the V-sign just before he faced the trust vote on June 22 last year? He could afford to be optimistic then, secure in the knowledge that with Amar Singh's help he had bought off enough MPs to save his government. But buying a billion votes is a different kettle of fish.

Rahul's plans to once again sneak him into 7, Race Course Road through the backdoor without having to face the electorate lie in tatters. Even self-professed allies have called his bluff.

For the Congress, the writing is on the wall. The maths is working like this: the Congress's dream of winning in Andhra and Tamil Nadu have evaporated; Sharad Pawar has shafted it in Maharashtra; Mamata Banerjee may not win more seats than the Left Front in West Bengal; Naveen Patnaik may hold his own in Orissa; and most importantly the BJP should retain its strength in the states it rules.

Rahul has no choice. He must turn poacher.

But alas, the only thing coming in the way of the Congress's political nirvana is the Left-led Third Front. Not only have the members of this front – the TRS and JD(S) notwithstanding - snubbed the Congress, other parties that are not formally part of the Third Front are also eyeing greener pastures in a non-Congress, non-BJP dispensation.

The fact of the matter is that after ten years and two coalition governments – NDA and UPA – the small parties are chary of being handmaidens of the two big parties. Not only do they have to scramble for crumbs thrown at them when it comes to cabinet berths, the big brothers also try to muscle into the political space they have carved for themselves in the provinces.

Chandrababu Naidu was the first to realise that the BJP was gaining at the TDP's expense in Andhra Pradesh during the Vajpayee years. Naveen Patnaik came to the same conclusion in Orissa recently. Deve Gowda is still to recoup after being taken for a ride by the saffron party. And Mayawati who has played footsie with the big two in the past has only scars to show for her dalliance.

On the UPA side of the fence, Lalu Prasad and Paswan realised late in the day that the Congress was keen on regaining Bihar for itself using their muscle. Mulayam Singh
Yadav did not yield an inch over sharing seats in Uttar Pradesh knowing full well he would be writing his own epitaph. And Mamata Banerjee was smart enough to offer only “unwinnable” seats in West Bengal and keep her options open.

So it is only natural that whoever forms the government, the small parties will hold the whiphand. And if they stick together and play their cards smartly, they can certainly take the country on a new track.

For this to happen the Left Front must emerge as the largest formation after the Congress and BJP to provide the glue to keep the smaller together in a tight bloc that can call the shots when it comes to forming the next government.

Roger And Out!

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