Debating India

UPA

Safe but under pressure

Monday 15 May 2006

A persistent feature of the just-concluded round of Assembly elections was speculation about the likely impact of their outcomes on the Congress-led Central Government.

How would they affect existing equations - on one side, between the Left and the Congress, and on the other, between the Congress and its partners in the United Progressive Alliance? Common wisdom - backed by strong evidence from the ground and polls - suggested a Left sweep in West Bengal and Kerala, with major policy implications. In Tamil Nadu, where the contest appeared closer, conjecture had it that a defeat for the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-led Democratic Progressive Alliance would throw the UPA out of kilter. By the same token, it was speculated that a DMK victory would strengthen the UPA partners - at the cost of the Congress. Either way, the Congress was believed to be at a disadvantage. In West Bengal, the Left Front’s spectacular seventh successive win decimated the Congress as well as the Trinamool Congress-Bharatiya Janata Party combine. In Kerala, the Left Democratic Front’s best ever victory saw the alliance break fresh ground in regions previously dominated by the United Democratic Front. To what extent will these results alter the balance of power in Delhi?

It is clear that the leading outcome of this round of Assembly elections is the emergence of a stronger and more assertive Left. In a restrained but categorical first reaction, Prakash Karat, general secretary of the Communist Party of India(Marxist), has looked forward to "increased intervention by the Left." It is in the interest of the UPA minority government to heed this message. In recent months, the Left-Congress relationship has been marked by publicly expressed misgivings - chiefly over areas of concern to the Left, which has complained that the policy thrust of the UPA Government was not in consonance with the National Common Minimum Programme. There is no near-term danger to the UPA regime. The BJP knows better than most parties in the system that the Left, unless deliberately provoked, will not upset the Congress-propelled applecart. Mr. Karat has also expressed himself against any hasty, politically expedient coalition. The Third Front idea has got a further jolt from Tamil Nadu, where the DMK has formed a minority government with outside support from the Congress and other coalition partners. The third alternative, proposed by the Samajwadi Party and the Telugu Desam Party, hinged on crucial support from parties such as the DMK and the Asom Gana Parishad. The DMK is locked in a long-term relationship with the Congress while the AGP will need first to analyse its own debacle in Assam. If the Congress faces a threat, it is more from itself, judging by the internal demand for a change of guard at the helm of the government and growing protests over the elitist direction of UPA government policy.

See online : The Hindu

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