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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2963

UPA Again

By Atul Cowshish & M Rama Rao

New Delhi, 17 May, ( In the end the pundits were proved wrong—as usual. The Congress-led UPA did better than the media projections. And the vote is for stability and inclusive policies.

The all-knowing media pundits may be counted among the ‘losers’ of the 2009 Lok Sabha poll, but they have a perfectly viable and acceptable alibi: it is their business to act as astrologers now and then even when knowing that it is not a science.

The return of the UPA might satisfy those who think that ‘continuity’ of policies is important for a country’s progress. The ‘continuity’ factor will depend a great deal on how the alteration in the character of the UPA plays out.

The Congress is euphoric because its tally is beyond its own calculations. But only a naïve Congress member will believe that the party is fast approaching its eminence of the immediate post-independence era. The party president and her son deserve credit for reviving the fortunes of the Congress in 2009 but the party is miles away from a functional infrastructure in many states, including the all-important ones of UP.

Speculation has started in some quarters that the verdict of the 2009 polls may start the process of return to one-party rule at the Centre. That may be a distinct possibility at least for the present.

To eliminate the coalition era, a national party like the Congress will have to work out absolutely new strategies that can meet regional aspirations. That cannot be an easy task because years of regional party growth ensured that the interests of two states in a region can be defined only in terms of conflict. A major cause of friction between two neighbours is generally water. With environmentalists predicting future ‘wars’ over water, it is difficult to see how one party can present a populist formula for two neighbours. And populism is another mainstay of regional parties.

The ‘losers’ and ‘gainers’ in 2009 are simple to detect - The BJP has been trounced by a foe that it thought had usurped its rightful place in 2004 itself. Among the 2009 ‘losers’ category should be counted the likes of Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mayawati, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan. All of them were sure that the prime minister’s chair was within their reach; now it looks only a distant possibility, at best.

For Mulayam Singh and Mayawati, the poll results must have been pretty disappointing. Mulayam has clearly lost his Muslim vote bank—and largely because he thought he had made a big catch by bringing Kalyan Singh to his side. The explanation he gave to justify his friendship with Kalyan only alienated his Muslim voters. His chief lieutenant in the party has been doing his best to give a glamorous coat to the ‘socialist’ party by flirting with the Bollywood stars.

Mayawati’s magic formula of ‘social engineering’ must also come under closer scrutiny. The media hype around her, built by a determined section of so-called progressives, who scoffed at her critics as being too snobbish, had prevented even a cursory examination of her ‘social engineering’ policy in which the selection of the so-called upper caste members into her fold was questionable.

It must remain doubtful if her penchant for diamonds and wealth really brought her hordes of admirers in a country where poverty is actually seen as some sort of a virtue. More than that, it could not have pleased her ‘core’ following among the Dalits to see that most of the upper caste members chosen by her for fighting the polls were either multi-millionaires or people of less than respectable repute.

As one can see it, two important tasks before the new government will be related to the fields of economics and foreign policy. The former is about overcoming the problems created by global meltdown and the latter is about encountering the all too palpable pressure from the US and other countries to shake hands with Pakistan even as it refuses to commit itself to eliminating its India-specific terror network.

With the Left off its back, the new Manmohan Singh government would have easier time pushing its economic agenda, particularly its ‘reform’ part. But that may not be as easy as it looks because the new ally of the UPA from West Bengal, Mamata Bannerjee’s Trinamul Congress, can be more troublesome than UPA’s previous ‘outside’ friend of the same state, the Marxists.

Mamata drove out the Tata’s Nano project from her state single-handedly. The Congress support to her was nothing more than a token gesture, necessary because of competitive politics. She is also opposed to creating special economic zones and has in general styled herself as a champion of the farmers and the poor—something that will require her to frequently use her veto power.

The new government may eventually learn to live with her vetoes on economic policies. What may create a bigger problem will be balancing the pressures from the US with domestic sentiments. The honeymoon with the USA seems to be nearing its end because the chanting of ‘change’ mantra by the new administration in Washington under Barack Obama includes a change in the way the previous (Bush) administration looked at India.

The Obama administration has given sufficient hints that it wants New Delhi to resume talking to Islamabad without waiting for any encouraging sign from the latter that suggests a change of mindset in the civil and military establishment there. The US is trying to literally ‘buy’ Pakistan’s friendship with multi-billion dollar aid, most of which will undoubtedly go into sharpening the teeth of that country’s military.

Any Indian government, no matter how much goodwill it enjoys in the country, that bows to US pressure, without being even remotely certain that Pakistan has started to close down the vast anti-India terror factory, will invite trouble. A domestic trouble sparked by a foreign ’element’ cannot be a welcome thought for a new government.

- Asian Tribune -

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