Poonam I. Kaushish
“I must be cruel only to be kind,” said the Prince of Denmark from Shakespeare’s famous play Hamlet. Trinamool leader capricious Mamata couldn’t agree more, as she continues to inflict ‘cruelty’ on any and every issue. Not only giving Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sleepless nights but also sending the UPA Government into a tailspin. Politics after all, is all about bestowing kindness on one self!
Mayawati too coos ditto, as she spreads her mayajaal all over the countryside as a plaintive Manmohan cries, “What can I do about the corruption? No one listens to me.” Any wonder the aam aadmi is kolaveri di.
Think. In her latest abominable diatribe, Mamata triggered a political and Parliamentary crisis by asking her Railway Minister be sacked. Simply, because she didn’t like his budgetary 2 paisa hike per km in fares (first time in 8 years) and be replaced by another Party MP. A hapless Prime Minister agreed.
Arguably, can a Minister be sacked because his budget may be good for the country’s railways but bad for his Party’s DNA? Why should the TMC ally be allowed to play her ‘power games’ with the Government? From FDI in retail, land acquisition, Lokayukta, Pension Bill to the National Counter Terrorism Centre Mamata has blocked one policy after another. Her clout is so much that she extracted an assurance from the Prime Minister in 15 minutes flat that the NCTC would be put in deep freeze.
True, the W Bengal Chief Minister is well within her right to oppose the railway budget proposals, no matter it smacks of inane populism and ‘pro-people’ political antics. But by her churlish and unpredictable behaviour she has locked the Centre and State in a zero sum game. Thereby, perhaps fuelling her people’s sensitivities and making the Centre look like a supplicant.
Undeniably, with 25 MPs (18 in Lok Sabha and 7 Rajya Sabha) she is fast emerging as a parallel power centre in UPA II, just as the Left had in UPA I. True, the tempestuous ties are so Mamata-ish. Bengal’s stormy petrel has always been a difficult ally. The NDA found that to its cost when she was part of Vajpayee’s NDA Government in 2004 and now the Congress too tastes her ire at the Centre and State.
What is the TMC Chief batting for? Does she want to bring down the Government? And dictate the date of the next election? And ensure she is not replaced by another Party. Undoubtedly, more than any other regional or national party, an early election is beneficial for Mamata, notwithstanding her denials.
On three scores. One, her bête noire Left Front is still weak and battered after the 2011 Assembly election defeat and if polls are held now she would get many more seats in the Lok Sabha and in turn be a bigger force in national politics in a new set-up.
Two, her more direct clash is against the Congress itself. She is determined to fight the 2014 (or whenever) Lok Sabha election unfettered by an ally. As it stands, she has reduced the Congress to a second fiddle in the State. Many Congressmen have joined her. Presently, she is systematically taking on and undermining the few remaining Congress leaders.
Three, Mamata’s impatience stems from her own popularity dipping. Already she is facing multiple challenges and wants early elections. The Left Government handed her a bankrupt State. She has no funds to plan or execute any big development plans. With a hefty interest on Rs 2.04 lakh crore debt she has only Rs 5000 crore in hand to invest in development activity.
Any wonder her anger. Though the Prime Minister is aware of her predicament, the Centre has a problem in agreeing to Mamata because Punjab and Kerala too are in a similar financial mess and the moratorium on huge interest will have to be given to them as well.
Questionably, is it time that the Congress sever ties with the TMC? Pertinently, Mamata has made clear she is not parting ways but the direction that she is taking cannot be comforting to the Congress. Yet it continues to shoot itself in the foot, is under siege and worse responds with transparent clumsiness. Why is it scared of annoying the TMC Chief and continues to placate her?
Asserted a senior Congress leader, “Primarily, because she is an erstwhile Congress leader who single-handedly fought the Left on the streets of Bengal. The Congress President Sonia reportedly has a soft corner for her and she has many admirers and well-wishers within the Party. Thus all indulge her quirks, shortsightedness and foibles.”
What next? How long can the government go on like this, lurching from crisis to crisis? Significantly, irrespective of how important an ally the TMC may be in terms of numbers to keep the UPA afloat, the Congress must realise the dangers of having self-serving allies. It is time for the Government to demonstrate that it has a vertebral column. The Railway Minister’s boss is the PM and not the TMC Chief. To get her approval for a Railway Budget is as preposterous as Bengal’s budget being approved by a Union Minister. There’s only way to take on a bully, stand up and say no.
Also, the Congress must build bridges with Mulayam’s Samajwadi which has 23 MPs as a possible ally to swell its numbers so that it can then shed its dependence on the TMC. And Mayawati’s BSP, still reeling from UP Assembly’s defeat. She too would be keen to support the UPA with 21 MPs, two more than the TMC and equally keen to avoid early general elections.
Importantly, as the Mamata fracas hogged media limelight another kolaveri di cause célèbre of the common man’s ire went unnoticed. Yes, I am talking of BSP Mayawati’s mayajaal kahani. From Rs 11.35 crore in 2004 to Rs 87.27 crore in 2010 and now Rs 111.64 crore, over 100 crores in a span of 8 short years. She currently owns Rs 96.38 crore immovable assets and Rs 15.26 crore moveable assets including diamond jewellery worth nearly Rs one crore, Rs 14 crore in bank accounts How? She has never worked in any 9-5 job, office work; private business yet is sitting on a huge pile of wealth. All ‘earned’ by seva of the garib janata. Read bribes for everything — from getting a ration card to income-tax, SC certificates et al. Wherein our polity has legalized corruption and put a seal of approval on the culture of plunder. Clearly, when gold speaks, all tongues are silent!
Why only Mayawati? How is she any different from Mulayam, Jayalalitha, Laloo, Sukhram etc? Remember Suraj Mandal, who blew the whistle in the JMM case in 1996. Asserted he: “Paisa boriyon main ata hai, gathriyon main nahin.” Wherein India’s politicos brand equity has been Xeroxed as corrupt, unashamed, public and brazen.
Clearly, something fundamental is wrong which makes the Government incapable of dealing with complex issues. The Prime Minister lacks authority and has no control over his Ministers, who do as they please. Mamata too should realise that her reputation as a troublesome ally isn’t in her long-term interest. Her populism and obstructionist policies can only get her so far. Her popularity peaked last year. It can only go down downhill from here unless she and her Party have tangible achievements to show for. Both need to remember: Power, breeds, arrogance leads to defeat. Else, be prepared for the last tango.
(This article was first published in Kashmir Times)