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26 March, 2013

Unsteady coalition plods on

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government is tottering with the loss of two large coalition partners in a span of six months but plods on, confident in the feeling that it will not be overthrown as few parties want to face elections immediately.

The Trinamool Congress, the Congress party’s largest ally, walked out of the coalition last September protesting against the decisions to open the retail sector to foreign direct investment and limit the subsidy on liquefied petroleum gas. The exit of its 19 members reduced the UPA to a minority with only 254 members in the 544-strong Lok Sabha. However, there was no threat to the government as it was supported from outside by the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party which have 22 and 21 members respectively.

Last week the next biggest constituent, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, with 18 members, pulled out of the alliance protesting against the government’s failure to press for censure of Sri Lanka in the UN Human Rights Council for violation of the rights of the island’s Tamil minority.

This further reduced the coalition’s strength in parliament, but the continued support of the SP and the BSP gives it the necessary numbers to claim a majority in the house. However, it is at the mercy of the SP and the BSP, either of which can bring it down at any time.

The SP’s Mulayam Singh Yadav and the BSP’s Mayawati are both ambitious leaders capable of driving hard bargains. Arch rivals in Uttar Pradesh politics, circumstances have forced them into the same side at the Centre.

The DMK had remained in the coalition without demur during the closing stages of the civil war in Sri Lanka when atrocities against the Tamils took place. Few, therefore, believe that its decision to withdraw support to the UPA and pull out its five ministers was dictated by sympathy for Sri Lankan Tamils.

DMK chief M Karunanidhi had been sulking since his daughter Kanimozhi, MP, and party colleague and former Communication Minister A Raja were arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation in 2011 on corruption charges. He chose to quit the coalition on the Sri Lankan human rights violations since it is an emotive issue in Tamil Nadu.

As soon as Karunanidhi announced his intention to leave the UPA, the Congress rushed three senor ministers, AK Antony, P Chidambaram and Ghulam Nabi Azad, to Chennai to mollify him. This was not easy since the government is keen to avoid doing anything which will push the Sri Lankan administration closer to China.

Yet, in a bid to placate him, the Congress leadership explored, against its own best judgement, the possibility of pushing through Parliament a resolution critical of Sri Lankan human rights violations. The move did not find favour with the Bharatiya Janata Party, the main opposition, and other parties like the SP and the Trinamool Congress. The aborted effort revealed a North-South divide in the country on the Sri Lankan issue.

The Congress, which has 203 members in the Lok Sabha, is now left with no ally with two-digit strength in the house, its largest remaining partners being Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar’s National Congress Party (nine members), Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (five) and Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (three).

Mayawati lost control of UP, the largest state, which sends 80 members to the Lok Sabha, in last year’s Assembly elections. She will not precipitate a situation which will lead to immediate parliamentary elections as it is unlikely to improve her party’s position.

Mulayam Singh Yadav may be thinking differently. The SP won the Assembly elections in the state and he has installed his son, Akhilesh Yadav, as the chief minister. He will not hesitate to pull the rug from under the UPA’s feet if he thinks the time is ripe for a kill. He knows that if he waits too long the ground situation may change to his disadvantage.

Facing increasing isolation as the elections approach, the Congress has begun a search for new allies. One party whose name figures in the speculation in this connection is the Janata Dal (United), the BJP’s largest partner in the National Democratic Alliance. The party heads the government in Bihar, a state with 40 seats in the Lok Sabha. The price Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has set for the support to any government at the Centre is a special package for his economically backward state.

A realignment of forces ahead of the elections is a possibility. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, March 26, 2013

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