New Delhi: 2008 marked some new lows for India’s politicans. Scenes from the 22nd July trust vote of wads of cash being waved in the Lok Sabha will stay with the people for a long time. That money was allegedly meant to bribe MPs to vote for the UPA government. It was a day that was waiting to happen, given the growing distance between the Left and the UPA. The government’s decision to move ahead with the nuclear deal proved the last straw.
After 4 years of supporting the UPA government, the Left finally pulled the plug. But the UPA remained firmly on the saddle. Thanks to a renewal of support from the Samajwadi Party. The secular Left was forced to vote with the nationalist BJP embarrassing its cadres, one of whom was the speaker himself. Somnath Chatterjee raised the banner of rebellion and was promptly suspended from the CPM which he had served for several decades.
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The government survived the trust vote but questions on the victory persist “It’s very unfortunate that the money played a big role in this, at whatever level, I don’t want to say.” says Congress General Secretary, Digvijay Singh. While the UPA managed to win the trust vote with 275 MPs voting in favor of the government but its majority in parliament dwindled with the number of MPs supporting it from outside down by 77. The NDA’s loss was even graver. Having failed to bring the government down, three of BJP’s own members who waved the one crore rupees inside the Lok Sabha were facing sharp scrutiny.
The murky nature of the trust-vote, ensured no politician came out of it unblemished. If there was any faith left in them, it was blown to bits by its handling of the Mumbai crisis. When BJP’s Prime Ministerial Candidate LK Advani announced that he would be visiting Mumbai along with Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, it seemed that on the issue of terrorism at least, there will be no more divisions. But that was not to be.
Digvijay Singh says, “It is unfortunate that inspite of the fact that prime minister wanted to take Mr. Advani with him, he did not wait and left early and I think it’s very unfortunate”. BJP leader Sheshadri Chari defended Advani. “It was told for security reasons the leader of opposition and PM may not go in same plane. So somehow it did not materialize. so suggestion was from PMO and opposition accepted it.”
It took political parties some time to rise above their partisan politics and stand united. Bills to counter terrorism were passed without much ado. Bowing to pressure from the opposition a totally ineffective home minister was removed. Another minister who tried to play minority politics on the issue of ATS chief Hemant Karkare’s death was asked to shut up. Against this turbulent backdrop, the assembly elections in 3 states were held. And it was believed that the fortunes of the congress would be severely affected. But that did not happen. Unbelievably the Congress was returned to power for a third time in Delhi.
Infact 2008 added the word pro-incumbency to the political lexicon. Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh voted back the low-profile, hardworking BJP chief ministers Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Raman Singh for a second term. On the other hand Rajasthan threw out the Vasundhara Raje government allowing Ashok Gehlot to ride back to power.
Interestingly, a closer look at the results of the ten state elections in 2008 give little indication of which way the wind will blow in the general elections expected early next year. Congress saw victories in 3 states and so did the BJP. Sheshadri Chari says, “I think our biggest achievement politically speaking would be our forming a government independently in Karnataka. BJP was considered a north India party right from the time of Jansangh, so that taboo has been broken.”
The December results did not suggest any impact of the terror strikes in Mumbai on the voters’ choice, thereby ensuring that development issues continue to be the priority for our elected representatives. More evidence was provided at the fag end of the year when people turned out in large numbers to deliver a verdict in favor of the National Conference in the elections to Jammu and Kashmir. But even bigger than the news of Omar Abdullah’s chief ministership, would be the overwhelming no to extremists in the valley.
The General elections are scheduled in 2009. And both the parties are gearing up for the test. But can BSP supremo Mayawati pose a challenge to them? And can the third front be a serious contender for the Centre? Mayawati failed to open her account in Jammu and Kashmir, but her rallies in south India and her growing stature in the country cannot be ignored. Prakash Karat is already sewing up alliances including one in Tamil Nadu with AIADMK’s Jayalalithaa as he tries to maneuver back into a backseat driving position. 2009 could spring as big a surprise as 2004, when the NDA’s balloon was punctured by the electorate.