Thursday, June 13, 2024

UPA-II at risk with Congress hold weakening in South


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By S. Sethuraman


The Winter Session of Parliament opening on November 22 looks set for stormy days with BJP and other opposition parties gearing up to indict UPA-II on a range of issues including corruption, and press for a vote on the divisive reform agenda, notably FDI participation in the retail sector. Major ally DMK is ambiguous on support for FDI entry into retail trade.

A glowing Congress, claiming to have dispelled “gloom and doom” by its bold reform agenda, will have to confront a combined opposition assault on its governance, inflation and economic policies focused on FDI for growth. Whether UPA-II can get a stamp of Parliamentary approval for its reforms, (considered appropriate by the Supreme Court while holding, on a petition, it would not interfere with policy decision by the executive), remains critical for Government’s credibility as well as its ability to endure until 2014.

Most of the regional parties, besides BJP heading the opposition, are lining up for a possible vote on a no-trust motion, first mooted by the Trinamool Congress leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Ms. Mamata Banerjee, who quit UPA over the Union Cabinet decisions on reforms centred on FDI. The Left parties have given notices for raising discussion in Lok Sabha with a vote at the end. The Congress is dependent on support from parties like SP of Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, who has reservations on FDI, and BSP of Ms. Mayawati.

Even as the Congress looks confidently to tide over any immediate threat to its stability at the Centre, its dominance on the national scene, with the steady erosion of base at grassroots, is already under growing challenge from strong regional parties with realignments in the making for the Battle of the Ballot in 2014. The Congress is already witnessing a narrowing of its spheres of influence in the relatively calmer Southern Region, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, in particular.

The DMK leader Mr. Karunanidhi has been non-committal on FDI retail issue and says his 18-member party’s stand would reflect “the apprehension’ among small and medium retail traders in Tamil Nadu” that they would all be adversely affected by FDI entry. Mr Karunanidhi had, at the time of UPA announcement of reforms, cautioned against “hasty” moves without “deep consultations” with all parties. The DMK, which in alliance with Congress, recorded maximum wins in the last two Lok Sabha elections (2004 and 2009),, but had lost power in the State in 2011 to AIDMK, has serious reservations on the reform agenda with its political implications.

Mr Karunanidhi did not propose any choices for the vacancies in the Cabinet following the resignation of two DMK Ministers. Evidently, he is watching evolving developments at the Centre amid a welter of corruption charges and counter-charges and possible party realignments that might take shape ahead of 2014 elections. Meanwhile, he is in a competitive race with his arch-rival Ms. Jayalalithaa on who stands up more for the interests of the people of Tamil Nadu and the Tamils in Sri Lanka. She outwitted Mr Karunanidhi in her denunciation of UPA’s “wave of reforms” extending FDI to retail, pension and insurance sectors which, she contended, were “detrimental to the future of the common people of the country”.

But the major blow for the Congress is in Andhra Pradesh where significantly, the pro-Congress Muslim Party, MIM, has suddenly withdrawn support to the Kiran Kumar Reddy Government in the State and to UPA at the Centre. While this in no way affects the strength of Congress Government in AP (155 in the 295-member House), the abrupt move by this influential 7-member group strikes at the secular image of the Congress at national level. MIM (Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen) has one member in the Lok Sabha represented by MIM President, Mr. Asaduddin Owaisi.

Claiming to speak for the 80 lakh Muslims in A P, Mr Owaisi contended the Kiran Kumar Reddy Government was “not caring” for the community, and listed some grievances such as in regard to fee reimbursement not being made to backward Muslims, cases booked against “innocent” Muslim youths for an incident in 201l, and poor implementation of the Centre’s 20-point economic programme exclusively for Muslims. Chief Minister Mr K K Reddy refuted the charges and said his party and government were committed to the welfare of minorities, particularly Muslims.

Expressing surprise over MIM action, the AICC General Secretary in charge of AP, Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad, said in New Delhi he was in touch with Mr Owaisi hoping to persuade him to retrace his step. He pointed out to Mr Owaisi that “no Congress Chief Minister can ever be communal, as the Congress is a secular party”. But Mr Owaisi has ruled out any reconsideration and called on Mr Jagan Mohan Reddy, in jail custody over an alleged illegal assets case, as his “friend”. The speculation in Hyderabad is that he has already made up his mind to align with YSR Congress led by Mr Jagan Mohan Reddy, to gain greater political space in the state.

The MIM decision has led to a flurry of expectations on its becoming ally with one or the other four political formations now dominating the state’s pre-election political scene. While the AP Congress President Mr Botcha Satyanarayana dubbed it as a pre-election move aimed at MIM aligning with YSR Congress, the Telengana Rashtra Samiti of Mr K Chandrasekhar Rao and TDP of Mr Chandrababu Naidu welcomed the defection and hoped MIM would align with them.

‘Padayatras’ have become the stock-in-trade for political parties in Andhra Pradesh, vying for power, after the long march across the State and a historic win in 2004 by the late Dr Y S Rajasekhar Reddy. Likewise, long in hibernation, TDP Chief Mr Chandrababu Naidu, embarked on a 2340-km padayatra, on October 2, to rejuvenate his party and get back to power, if need be with an alliance in 2014. Not to be outdone, Ms. Sharmila, sister of Mr Jagan Mohan Reddy, in prison since May pending trial in CBI cases filed against him, also launched herself on a ‘padayatra’ to urge the people to vote for YSR Congress and carry forward her father’s welfare programmes in 2004-09.

Mr Naidu, having relatively neglected agriculture and rural development in his previous stint in office, is meeting groups of farmers and assuring them of loan waivers and free power for nine hours. He also has offered at least 100 seats for backward classes and an empowerment policy for Muslims giving them 15 per cent of tickets. Mr Naidu contends he has not opposed separation of Telengana and said TDP stand would be made explicit at an all-party conference when convened by the Centre.

Meanwhile, the TRS Chief Mr Chandrasekhar Rao has given an ultimatum to the Congress that unless a decision on Telengana formation with Hyderabad as capital was taken by the end of this year, his party would intensify its agitation. His plans are to contest and win 100 Assembly seats, mainly in the Telengana region and 15 Lok Sabha seats in 2014 to make an irresistible case for separation. His offers to the region include 12-hour free power for farmers and compulsory free education for poor from “KG to PG.” and 12 per cent reservation for Muslims. MIM is supportive of a separate Telengana state with Hyderabad as capital.

Developments in Andhra Pradesh, even if not of direct relevance to discussion in Lok Sabha on the reform agenda, would cause some eruption in the winter session. For the Congress itself and UPA-II which has sidelined the Telengana issue, the ongoing political trends should be of serious concern. Congress Ministers belonging to Telengana region are not giving much peace of mind either to the Chief Minister Mr N Kiran Kumar Reddy, who has been able to maintain law and order despite the massive Telengana agitations and rally on October 30 and was commended by PM for ensuring successful completion the International Biodiversity Conference in Hyderabad in October. The only way of arresting further drift is to take early decisions on the future of Andhra Pradesh. (IPA Service)


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