Firebrand West Bengal leader Mamata Banerjee proved her detractors wrong this time around. Her image had taken a beating when after initially steadfastly refusing to support UPA’s Presidential candidate, she had come around to supporting Pranab Mukherjee in the end, albeit with a ‘heavy heart’.
Also speculations were doing rounds that she may withdraw her ministers from the Union Cabinet but give outside support to the UPA as she would want a friendly government at the Centre in order to maximize financial packages for West Bengal.
So, her announcement to withdraw support from the Congress-led ruling coalition at the Centre and her subsequent refusal to soften stand on the issue of fuel price hike, cap on LPG and FDI in multi-brand retail sector has put Manmohan Singh government on the edge, forcing it to ponder prospects of severing its ties with the TMC.
However, Mamata’s decision to pull out of UPA-2 has also led to an environment of polit
ical uncertainty in the country fuelling talks of mid-term polls. While the Congress is struggling to secure support of leaders like Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav, TMC’s withdrawal has also provided a golden opportunity to regional satraps and other political players to indulge in the bargain game in lieu of their support to the ruling coalition and weigh the pros and cons of Mamata’s exit.
The Opposition has trained its guns on the Congress-led UPA government for its anti-people policies and ignoring the views of its allies. And those who were expected to come to UPA's rescue in this hour of crisis are busy drafting their response and chalking their own agenda – read Mulayam Singh Yadav.
For the BJP and the Left Front, TMC’s threat has come as a God sent opportunity to corner the Congress regime. It is therefore not surprising that the BJP has kept mum on the Mamata episode regarding its future strategy, though it went all out in predicting the downfall of UPA-2. It is also ironical that Mamata exit from UPA managed to bring the Left leaders on a common platform with the right leaders. September 20 Bharat Bandh saw parties cutting across political spectrum unite for a single agenda.
In the days to come BJP may call for a special session of Parliament on the key policy decisions taken by the government and an immediate vote of confidence. However, BJP is also unsure whether a vote of confidence moved by it would yield expected results and will not have the same fate as its previous attempts to dislodge the UPA government. This is why the saffron brigade does not want to take any decision in haste and will prefer to wait till Mulayam Singh Yadav makes his intentions clear.
In this high stakes game, Mulayam Singh Yadav harbors a secret ambition to gain the most from the current political crisis facing the Congress regime. This is why SP supremo is once again playing the guessing game and keeping his cards close to his chest on the issue of supporting UPA-2. His party actively participated in the Bharat Bandh called by the Opposition. Though at present SP is supporting the government from outside.
This is the same Mulayam Singh Yadav, who sometime back promised unequivocal support to Trinamool Congress chief during the Presidential elections, but backed out at the last moment in favour of the UPA candidate for bigger political gains - So flip-flop is nothing new for the SP chief.
Those who are aware of Mulayam’s brand of politics say that he will withdraw support only if is 200% sure that the government’s fall is imminent. Needless to say about his ambition to become the Prime Minister of India in 2014 by leveraging himself on the banner of Third Front which could be supported by the Congress. At the same time he would not want his arch rival Mayawati to get close to the Congress and reap the advantages that he can by supporting the Congress. Remember, SP needs huge financial assistance from the Centre for Uttar Pradesh to fulfill the promises made in its manifesto.
On the other hand BSP chief would not want a mid-term poll in the immediate future, especially after her party’s debacle in UP Assembly elections six months back since it would give her some time to re-strengthen her party. She would also like to wait for anti-incumbency factor to set in against Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav.
By joining hands with the UPA government, she would not only save Congress from Mamata Banerjee’s regular blackmails but also increase her political clout that would help her in settling score with SP.
So in the present context, she appears to be the safest bet for the ruling Congress, although her support may come at a huge price. The BSP chief could push the ruling coalition to pass some more welfare schemes for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, and take credit for it.
Meanwhile, Mamata, who has ridiculed the Congress for trying to isolate TMC and not consulting it on important issues, will use her departure from the UPA to further consolidate her party’s position in West Bengal.
She is likely to maintain equal distance from both the UPA and NDA while deciding on future strategy for the next Lok Sabha elections. By taking a tough stand against the Congress government on the issue of fuel price hike, LPG cap and FDI in multi-brand retail sector, she has already gained mileage against her chief opponents, the Left and positioned herself as the voice of the poor.
She may also try to form an alternative front with Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and Mulayam Singh Yadav. JD-U leader Nitish Kumar has already fuelled speculation that all is not well within the BJP-led NDA by saying that his party would support anyone who promises to grant special status to Bihar.
Also, Kumar has already expressed his displeasure on attempts to project Gujarat’s hardline Chief Minister Narendra Modi as NDA’s prime ministerial candidate in 2014 polls, so the possibility of JD-U joining hands with Mamata may not be distant reality.
In the present situation, everyone has an axe to grind. Only time will tell as to who will eventually come to the Congress’ rescue and bail them out. If not, then are we headed for a mid-term poll?
(The views expressed by the author are personal)