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വായന

04 September, 2012

An eye to the 2014 poll

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

With the Congress party in deep trouble, foes are getting ready for the kill and friends are charting their own separate courses with an eye to the parliamentary elections, which is due in 2014 but can come sooner. The Samajwadi Party, which supports the government from outside, is exploring the possibility of reviving the third front.

The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, now in the latter half of its second five-year term, has been assailed by one scandal after another in the last two years. Just as it was sighing with relief over the split in Anna Hazare’s team, which had brought corruption to the top of the nation’s agenda, a scandal relating to coal mining contracts made headlines.

The coal scam, like the scandal relating to allocation of second generation (2G) spectrum, was brought to light by the Comptroller and Auditor General, the constitutional authority mandated to scrutinise government accounts. The CAG estimated that allotment of mining licences without auction had resulted in a loss of Rs1,830 billion to the exchequer. That made ‘Coalgate’ bigger than the 2G scam in which the loss was put at Rs1,766 billion.

The Congress was able to shift the focus in the 2G scam to the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam of Tamil Nadu, its second largest partner in the UPA, as its nominee, A Raja, was the Communications Minister during the relevant period. The opposition could only charge the Congress and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with failure to rein it in. Raja and Kanimozhi, MP and daughter of DMK chief M Karunanidhi, are now facing corruption charges in a court, along with some senior officials.

In the present scandal the spotlight is on the prime minister as the coal ministry was in the hands of the Congress party throughout and Manmohan Singh himself was in charge for some time. The Bharatiya Janata Party has stalled the proceedings of both houses of Parliament for more than a week demanding the prime minister’s resignation. It has turned down the government’s offer to discuss the CAG report in Parliament and vowed to carry the fight into the streets.

The procedure laid down in the Constitution provides for scrutiny of CAG reports by Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee. Any discussion in Parliament or action by the government on the report can only come after that. This procedure has been derailed on a few occasions since the CAG report on the corruption in the deal with the Swedish arms dealer Bofors for purchase of howitzers when Rajiv Gandhi was prime minister.

The combined opposition was able to force a probe by a joint parliamentary committee into the Bofors deal and the Central Bureau of Investigation conducted criminal investigation for years but no one could be brought to book. TN Chaturvedi, the CAG who produced the Bofors report, later became a BJP member of Parliament. Some observers believe Coalgate may go the Bofors way.

As in the case of the 2G scam, the Congress party’s first response to the CAG report was to deny there had been loss of revenue. Later a party spokesman accused the CAG, Vinod Rai, of harbouring political ambitions.

With opinion polls indicating that the Congress is going downhill and that its own fortunes are improving, the BJP is trying to force the government to quit and clear the way for early elections. With this end in view it is considering the possibility of mass resignation of opposition MPs. What is holding it back is the reluctance of some of its National Democratic Alliance partners to go the whole hog with it.

At one stage, the Congress itself was considering the possibility of early parliamentary elections as the drought spell in some parts of the country is likely to add to its difficulties later on. Its leadership, however, appears to be in a state of paralysis. It has not been able to take any meaningful steps to refurbish the image of the party and the government ahead of the elections.

The opinion polls show that as things now stand the BJP can hope to replace the Congress as the largest single party in the NDA as the largest single pre-poll alliance. But the indications are that they are getting only a part of the voters who are deserting the Congress. The bulk of them are moving towards the smaller national or regional parties. However, revival of the third front will not be easy. The Communist Party of India-Marxist, which played the midwife under similar circumstances in the past, is no longer in a position to do so. --Gulf Today, September 4, 2012.

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