Few could have imagined in May 2009 that the second UPA government would be in its present predicament. Yes, there is indeed a government in New Delhi. As for governance, that’s a different question altogether. Many believe the government should not be allowed to complete its full term of five years, that general elections should indeed take place as soon as possible. But that may not happen simply because the overwhelming majority of the MPs in the Lok Sabha — not just those in the ruling coalition but in the Opposition as well — do not want early elections.
Consider those who would like elections to take place immediately, if not in the near future. The two parties that are obviously keen to face the electorate soon are the Trinamool Congress headed by Mamata Banerjee and the AIADMK led by J. Jayalalithaa — both believe (and rightly so) that their respective parties could gain significantly in the next round of elections. Both the TMC and the AIADMK swept to power in 2011 by decimating their political opponents (the Left Front and the DMK, respectively) riding a veritable tsunami of anti-incumbency sentiments. Both these women Chief Ministers realise it is easier to whip up support against their rivals than to remain popular by providing an efficient and clean administration.
There is another major regional party that would perhaps welcome mid-term polls and that is the Samajwadi Party. The contrary view is that Mulayam Singh Yadav would like to wait for a while for his son Akhilesh Yadav to try and prove his mettle as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. Nevertheless, the SP realizes that its opportunistic brand of politics certainly would not help it in the face of a strong anti-government mood in the country. Besides, the party would certainly like to side with the winning combination.
There is one small section within the biggest opposition party, the BJP, which would not be unhappy if elections take place earlier than scheduled. This group is one that owes complete allegiance to L.K. Advani and believes he is still the tallest leader (literally and metaphorically) in the BJP and that he is the only one who can be a “credible” prime ministerial candidate for the party. In any case, the next elections offer the last chance he has to take a crack at the top job.
But politics in India has become increasingly unpredictable. Who could have imagined that so many scandals would come tumbling out of the cupboard of Mr Clean’s government virtually every other day, if not every week? Who could have anticipated that the Congress party’s fond hopes of finding a youthful leader in Rahul Gandhi would dissipate after the outcome of the assembly elections in UP and Punjab?
Amid the political uncertainty, despite the government’s best efforts, the state of the economy appears unlikely to improve significantly in the short run. Inflation is certain to return, especially if the government cuts subsidies on petroleum products as outlined in the Union budget and increases diesel prices. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee is facing a lot of flak for retrospectively amending the rules governing taxation of capital gains of overseas corporate entities with control over assets in India— notably in the Vodafone case. But his claims about wanting to control black money in the country are far from convincing since no attempts are being made to plug the Mauritius route, nor the use of P-notes for stock-market transactions by foreign institutional investors being sought to be curtailed.
It is ironical that some sections of the population that have been the biggest beneficiaries of the government’s market-friendly economic policies — industrialists, traders and the upwardly mobile middle classes — are today complaining the loudest about the so-called “policy paralysis” that has afflicted the government. What the future holds is difficult to predict, but a small upheaval could trigger a major crisis in the polity.
UPA: United Progressive Alliance/ AIADMK: All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam / TMC: Trinamool Congress / DMK: Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam / SP: Samajwadi Party / BJP: Bhartiya Janata Party / P-notes: Participatory notes