Snap polls on the horizon, the big game begins

By Deepak Nagpal | Updated: Sep 19, 2012, 18:12 PM IST

Deepak Nagpal

Mamata Banerjee’s decision to withdraw support to the UPA government over the issue of diesel price hike, capping of cooking gas subsidy and permitting foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail has led to speculation as to whether the Congress-led government will complete its full term? Or, will the General Elections be held before the scheduled 2014 date?

While some political parties have already started playing their cards, the first one being Mamata’s Trinamool Congress, others are keeping them close to their chest waiting for an opportune time to make their stand clear.

The Congress, by standing firm on its three economically-sound-but-politically-insensitive decisions, has set the ball rolling. It appears prepared to face a mid-term poll, the prospects of winning which are very slim, considering the mood in the nation against the ruling establishment. A slew of mega scams and corruption, ever rising inflation, high EMIs, a stagnating economy all have played their role in eroding the pro-common man image of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in its second avatar.

But, as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reportedly told his colleagues at the Cabinet meet where the three politically-suicidal decisions were taken, that “if we have to go down, let us go down fighting”, makes amply clear that the Congress has made up its mind on saving its image. Through these decisions, the PM wants to send across a message loud and clear – that he is no lame-duck head of the government, that he is not an “underachiever”, and that there is no ‘policy paralysis’ in his government.

While the Congress has been left ‘not too shocked’ by TMC’s decision on withdrawing support to the UPA government, it is banking on the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) to bail it out in case of a No Confidence Motion in Parliament. Post TMC’s exit (which will officially happen on Friday), the UPA is now in minority with 254 members in Lok Sabha. It needs at least 272 MPs to enjoy the confidence of the House, and the nation. The SP with 22 MPs and the BSP with 21 could easily bail out the UPA in case of a vote in the Lok Sabha. Both parties are already supporting the government from outside.

However, political pundits are discussing whether Mulayam Singh Yadav will go with the government this time around after bailing it out on several previous occasions. If Mulayam feels that the Third Front, which still needs to be cobbled up, could emerge as the largest force in case mid-term polls are held, he might easily let the UPA government fall. The SP is a big political force and in a scenario where the Third Front is in a position to form the government, Mulayam could easily be fancying his chances to occupy the Prime Minister’s chair. His party’s recent performance in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly Elections has given ample confidence to Netaji to go for the kill if the situation is conducive.

BSP supremo Mayawati, on the other hand, is reported to be averse to early elections after having lost power in UP just little over six months back. A mid-term poll could see the BSP losing a major chunk of its seats in the Lok Sabha and reducing it to a party with no muscle power. So, the BSP is most likely to be on the side of the UPA when it comes to taking a decision on the survival of the government.

The main opposition BJP, meanwhile, is fancying its chances to make big gains in case the UPA government falls and the country goes to early polls. Being the second largest party of the country, UPA’s loss will translate into BJP’s gain – though the percentage of gain may vary, depending upon people’s perception of the national party in present circumstances. Party’s senior-most leader, LK Advani has already said that post TMC’s pulling the plug, it is a matter of time before the government collapses.

But the saffron party will have to first being in clarity in its own house – especially on PM candidate – before it can realistically think of putting up a fight.

The DMK, another key ally of the government, is most likely to do fence-sitting. It has already decided to take part in the Opposition called September 20 Bharat Bandh, against the government’s recent decisions. The DMK has not forgotten the 2G shame it had to face in the wake of A Raja and M Kanimozi going to jail for their alleged involvement in the spectrum allocation scam and would like to teach a lesson to the Congress. In most likelihood, the DMK would allow the UPA government to fall if it is sure that its days are numbered. However, it would not like to isolate itself by withdrawing support to the UPA if it believes that the government will somehow sail through the present crisis.

The Left parties have, meanwhile, said that it is time for early polls considering the UPA policies are ‘anti-people’. Having lost a majority of their support base in West Bengal and Kerala in the recent Assembly elections, the Left knows it does not have much to lose.

The NCP, another constituent of the UPA, firmly appears to be behind the government at present. However, its chief Sharad Pawar could bowl a googly if he believes that the Third Front has a realistic chance of coming to power. Like Mulayam, Pawar too has prime ministerial ambitions and his best shot at being the PM could be joining the Third Front and heading it by winning numbers in the mid-term polls.

The JD(U), a constituent of the opposition NDA, has welcomed Mamata’s decision to pull out of the UPA government and slammed the Centre for its policies. But, its leader and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has said that his party would support the government which accords special status to Bihar. Through these remarks, Nitish has sent a message not just to the UPA but also to the BJP – that playing up Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as a PM face for 2014 polls could end up losing its key ally.

Another player, Naveen Patnaik’s BJD has firmly stated that it would not support the UPA government come what may.

Among other parties, while the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Shiv Sena – both NDA constituents – have reiterated their allegiance to the opposition alliance, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena of Raj Thackeray has supported FDI in retail. Though, Raj’s favourable remarks mean little as his party does not have any member in the Lok Sabha.

The field appears to be open for mid-term polls as of now. Every party, every leader has some or the other ambitions and only these will decide which way they go in the coming future. But for now, the UPA’s fate hangs in balance.