Shining India represented by consistent high growth rates in the corporate sector and a decelerating Bharat represented by the agricultural sector are a picture in complete contrast.
Many a government has ignored this growing disparity and paid a heavy price for it. The NDA government, led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and the governments of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, led by Chandrababu Naidu and S.M.Krishna, respectively, have been made to bite the dust for ignoring the interests of rural India.
Learning from others’ mistakes, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre in the past few months has been making politically correct moves and correct noises. The political leadership of the Congress (read Sonia Gandhi) appears to have completely taken over the charge of management of the economy.
All crucial decisions concerning the economy are not being decided by the economist-turned-Prime Minister nor by our suave finance minister, but by the party leadership. The Prime Minister and his ministers in charge of key economic portfolios are steering the economy, but with the party leadership in the driver’s seat.
After floundering for several months in reining in rising inflation, which cost the party dearly in key state elections, the political leadership has decided to make inflation control the top economic agenda of the government.
As recent trends show, the party can heave a sigh of relief as the inflation rates have been on the decline. With a good monsoon, inflation in prices of primary articles—these are still high—is expected to decline some more in the coming months.
After the furore on special economic zones and foreign direct investment in the retail sector, the government has to look increasingly towards the party line in pushing implementation of these policies.
In the life of this government, pushing any reform agenda seems like a remote possibility.
Left’s growing clout
The Left parties are becoming increasingly belligerent and have now formed a strong caucus comprising regional parties from both within the UPA and outside it. After the elections to the offices of the President and the Vice-President, economic management will increasingly be dictated by the Left parties.
The Left parties know how to browbeat the Congress leadership into accepting their demands. Their success in stalling the imposition of President’s rule in Uttar Pradesh and in denying Gandhi a President of her first choice have emboldened them into pressurizing the Congress party into accepting more of their demands.
With the Left parties calling the shots, the management of the economy may no longer be even within the UPA.
The Left parties, it seems, are working to a game plan. They will support the UPA until the completion of its term. And after the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, they would like to cobble up yet another coalition involving regional parties both within the UPA and outside.
The Left parties already have a good working relationship with many regional parties both within the UPA (DMK, NCP) and those outside it (Samajwadi Party, Telugu Desam Party, AIADMK).
The Left parties are possibly trying to correct the ‘historic blunder’ they committed in 1999 in denying Jyoti Basu the prime ministership.
The Left parties’ success in controlling the Congress has helped them emerge as the third powerful bloc after the Congress and the BJP. The ‘third front’ parties are, therefore, looking forward to the Left parties to lead them.
Realizing the Left’s game plan, the Congress is trying to be battle-ready. Though elections are a good two years away, there is some sense of urgency being shown by the Congress leadership in many of its actions.
If pushed into a corner, the Congress may prefer mid-term elections rather than succumb to pressures. That is a trump card in the hands of the Congress, as the Left front is not yet ready to face polls and the tremors caused by the Nandigram flare-up are yet to recede.
In this scenario, the office of the President of India has become very important. The President is vested with discretionary powers in inviting anyone to form a government and the amount of time for proving majority on the floor of the House.
The mutual suspicion of the Congress and the Left parties and their collective apprehensions about the BJP have mandated their interest in installing a ‘friendly President’ who would act as their personal agent rather than a fair adjudicator.
Every political party wants to use the office of the President of India as a palace of intrigues.
With such clear-headed undignified objectives, who else will suit to be the President of India better than their current candidate, Pratibha Patil? I can’t help but congratulate the entire UPA (and commiserate with the people of the nation) for selecting and persisting with a candidate who will execute their future political game plans.
G.V.L. Narasimha Rao is a political analyst and managing director of Development & Research Services, a research and consulting firm in New Delhi. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org