Early polls or not, Congress tries to drive home Budget advantage

Early polls or not, Congress tries to drive home Budget advantage
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First Published: Mon, Mar 10 2008. 12 42 AM IST

Seeking benefits: Sunday’s Congress rally was the first in a series of similar public meetings the party plans to hold across the country. ( B. Mathur / Reuters)
Seeking benefits: Sunday’s Congress rally was the first in a series of similar public meetings the party plans to hold across the country. ( B. Mathur / Reuters)
Updated: Mon, Mar 10 2008. 12 42 AM IST
Seemingly beating yet another retreat on the pending India-US nuclear deal under sustained pressure from outside backers, the Left parties, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government seems to have somewhat neutralized the political advantage that it appeared to have gained via a sop-laden 2008 Budget.
Even as external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee virtually ruled out early elections—especially over the nuclear issue—the Congress staged a large farmers’ rally in the Capital. There, party president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh were content to blame the previous Bharatiya Janata Party-led government for the plight of farmers, and refrained from mentioning the nuclear deal.
Seeking benefits: Sunday’s Congress rally was the first in a series of similar public meetings the party plans to hold across the country. ( B. Mathur / Reuters)
Despite seeking maximum political benefit from the Rs60,000 crore debt-relief pac-kage announced in the Budget on 29 February, the Congress party faced a 15 March deadline set by Prakash Karat, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary, for the next meeting of the 15-member UPA-Left panel on the India-US nuclear deal.
Meanwhile, rising inflation, surging crude oil prices and last week’s stinging electoral setbacks in Tripura and Nagaland may have accounted for a rethink within the ruling alliance about the wisdom of going to early polls on the back of the Budget and, especially, over the nuclear issue.
“To be fair, all that the Left parties did, was to reiterate their position,” said Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president of the Centre for Policy Research, a New Delhi-based think tank.
“Of course, the Left position itself doesn’t make sense. If the Left is so opposed to the nuclear deal, why go through this charade of allowing the government to go to the International Atomic Energy Agency in the first place? Equally, how does this government hope to clinch the deal when the Left has made it amply clear that it will withdraw support the moment the government takes another step? The government has itself said that the US won’t sign the deal with a minority government in India,” Mehta said.
Then, there are other niggling worries for the government. Inflation, as Gandhi admitted in her address on Sunday, remains a concern for the government. Based on the Wholesale Price Index, inflation surged past 5% for the first time in 10 months, to 5.02% for the week ended 23 February, mainly due to costlier food items.
Indeed, even as Singh blamed the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday, the leader of opposition, L.K. Advani, led a walkout at the end of the speech, saying that the Prime Minister had failed to address the core issues, including price rise. While claiming that his government didn’t believe in maintaining price stability at the cost of giving the farmers their due, Singh had also blamed inflation on the rise in global crude oil prices, which continue to surge to fresh record levels.
Brahma Chellaney, a strategic affairs analyst, said: “Let alone the Left or the BJP, even the Congress’ allies within the government don’t want the nuclear deal at the cost of early elections. So, in that sense, nothing has fundamentally changed over the past eight months. It is still the Congress party that has to risk an early election. Is it prepared to do so?”
Sunday’s Congress rally was, meanwhile, the first in a series of similar public meetings the party plans to hold across the country.
PTI contributed to this story.
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First Published: Mon, Mar 10 2008. 12 42 AM IST