From the ed­i­tor- in- chief

India Today - - FROM THE EDITOR- IN- CHIEF - ( Aroon Purie)

The com­fort­able elec­tion of Pranab Mukher­jee as the 13th Pres­i­dent of In­dia could well have lulled the Congress party into a false sense of se­cu­rity. But Sharad Pawar’s Na­tion­al­ist Congress Party ( NCP) did not give its larger ally any time to gloat. On the evening of July 19, af­ter the votes for the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion had been cast, Pawar threat­ened, in pub­lic, to with­draw his party’s min­is­ters from both the Union Gov­ern­ment and the Ma­ha­rash­tra gov­ern­ment. He was ap­par­ently fed up of be­ing hu­mil­i­ated by the Congress. It was widely re­ported that Pawar was peeved at hav­ing been de­nied the seat oc­cu­pied by the Gov­ern­ment’s Num­ber 2 to the Prime Min­is­ter’s right in Cab­i­net meet­ings. Congress chose De­fence Min­is­ter A. K. Antony to re­place Pranab Mukher­jee in that chair.

But Pawar’s re­bel­lion was about much more than a pre­ferred seat at Cab­i­net meet­ings. A vet­eran politi­cian, Pawar knows only too well that as agri­cul­ture min­is­ter for the last eight years, he has been de­lib­er­ately kept out of the big four in Cab­i­net— fi­nance, home, de­fence and ex­ter­nal af­fairs. With just 11 and 9 MPs in UPA 1 and UPA 2, he has not had much bar­gain­ing power at the Cen­tre. He has in fact been the Congress’s most loyal ally, never throw­ing a tantrum and sup­port­ing many of the more con­tro­ver­sial poli­cies of Man­mo­han Singh’s Gov­ern­ment, in­clud­ing the nu­clear deal and greater for­eign in­vest­ment.

So, what has al­tered? The Congress has hardly changed its at­ti­tude to­wards al­lies. It has largely ig­nored them in de­ci­sion- mak­ing, only to bow down be­fore an or­ches­trated tantrum. The real change is that the Congress is greatly weak­ened af­ter eight years in of­fice. Cor­rup­tion has taken a toll. Pol­icy paral­y­sis has taken a firm grip. There is a lead­er­ship cri­sis at the top. Man­mo­han is at the end of his in­nings. Rahul Gandhi’s con­tin­ued am­biva­lence makes the fu­ture un­cer­tain. The wily Pawar has cho­sen this mo­ment to as­sert him­self. He has re­belled in sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances in the past. He left the Congress when Indira Gandhi was at her weak­est af­ter the Emer­gency. He left the Congress when So­nia Gandhi was strug­gling to as­sert con­trol in 1999.

Pawar knows that most of the Congress’s al­lies are dis­grun­tled. Two days af­ter his re­bel­lion, Ma­mata Banerjee told a rally in Ben­gal that she would con­test the next elec­tions alone. A cou­ple of days later, Mu­layam Singh Ya­dav, the Congress’s new­est ally, to­gether with the Left par­ties and the JD( S) wrote a let­ter to the Prime Min­is­ter op­pos­ing FDI in re­tail. Pawar is po­si­tion­ing him­self to be the leader of the op­po­si­tion within the UPA. Af­ter strik­ing a deal with the Congress to set up a for­mal co­or­di­na­tion mech­a­nism in the al­liance on July 25, the NCP said it was act­ing on be­half of all al­lies. This is an op­por­tune mo­ment for all al­lies to get a bet­ter deal from Congress.

Our cover story, writ­ten by Se­nior Ed­i­tor Priya Sahgal and As­sis­tant Ed­i­tor Ki­ran Tare, ex­plores and ex­plains the po­lit­i­cal logic be­hind Pawar’s ma­noeu­vres. Pawar has an ad­di­tional bar­gain­ing chip, Ma­ha­rash­tra, where his party’s 62 MLAs are in a coali­tion with the Congress’s 82 MLAs in a 288- mem­ber Assem­bly. Ma­ha­rash­tra is crit­i­cal to Congress for­tunes in the next gen­eral elec­tion. Ma­ha­rash­tra has been a UPA bas­tion for long— the Congress- NCP coali­tion has ruled the state since 1999. Pawar will not leave the UPA now, but the Congress would do well to give its al­lies a sense of par­tic­i­pa­tion in de­ci­sion- mak­ing if it wants to de­liver any sem­blance of gov­er­nance over the next year and a half.

OUR NOVEM­BER 2009 COVER

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