Thursday, September 20, 2012

Bandh and Mamata behind…..its time to zip, zap, zoom!

Yesterday’s bandh was an utter failure in most parts of the country. Except those where the ruling dispensation was itself the one going on the bandh. How quaint – and similar to Mamata’s own habit of protesting against her own people – that a state government which controls the police mechanism (which maintains peace ane prevents such bandhs) is also the one going on a strike! But now that all that is behind, the UPA must quickly move ahead….

But before going to the path ahead, a little analysis of the bandh helps understand how divided the opposition is and how political the entire protest against the UPA was.

Whatever impact the bandh had was limited to states like Bihar and UP – and that too in a very small way – where the ruling parties – the BJP-JD(U) and SP – were supporting the bandh. Ravi Shankar’s “arrest” in Patna was a charade meant only for the TV cameras. Being arrested by one’s own cops and then being released with samosas and garlands on offer can hardly be called an arrest!

Very interesting the way the bandh broke up different political entities. In TN, the NDA-sympathizing AIADMK was against the bandh and the UPA-ally DMK was the one on strike! The DMK was apparently against the cabinet decisions on FDI in multi-brand retail, diesel price hike and capping of subsidized LPG cylinders. If they had wanted to protest, shouldn’t they have just done it in the cabinet itself? Or should they not pull out support to the UPA and demand early elections? No….they want to protest on the streets, while they still enjoy the powers of being in the government!

Then there was Maharashtra where both the major opposition parties – the Shiv Sena and the MNS opposed the bandh – though for different reasons. The Shiv Sena hid behind the fig leaf of Ganesh celebrations. The MNS actually made a bold statement that they supported the central government’s decisions. The BJP was left alone to mark its token presence. Without the Shiv Sena, the BJP is indeed just that – a token presence! Life in Mumbai remained completely unaffected.

In Karnataka, where the ruling BJP has been reduced to a sham, there was no impact of the bandh at all.

But the most interesting of all was West Bengal. It was Mamata’s tantrums that started this entire political fraud in the first place. But she was the one opposing the bandh in WB! Now this must have felt very strange to Mamata. Usually she is the one rebelling in the streets – usually against her own government. This time around, in spite of being the one who pulled the rug from under the central government’s feet, she was the one opposing the bandh! We have always known that Mamata couldn’t see beyond her nose. That Mamata’s decisions are seldom made by herself. In this case also, Mamata’s decision to oppose was taken by the Left parties. The moment they called for the bandh, Mamata had to oppose! Poor Mamata – imagine being on the same side of the government while opposing it at the same time!

Elsewhere, and very interestingly, the Odisha government – though opposed to the Congress – decided not to support the bandh. There have been some stories in the papers about how Naveen Patnaik actually supports the center’s decision taken last Friday. If that is so, why doesn’t he just support them openly? If this is not putting politics before country, what is?

Of course in Congress ruled states, there was no impact at all. It was business as usual in Delhi, AP, Haryana and Rajasthan. Interestingly, in the industrial state of Gujarat, in spite of Modi, there was no impact of the bandh at all. Like I have always said, Gujaratis want dhandha, not bandhs!

Sensing the lack of enthusiasm in the bandh, the Congress did the right thing. It went ahead and notified the rules for FDI in aviation and multi-brand retail. In doing this a day before Mamata’s ministers are to resign, the government showed a rare nerve. Not only has it decided not to roll back its decisions, it has also decided to rub salt into her wounds. The Congress revealed that the TMC’s manifesto in 2009 had actually supported FDI in retail. Mamata was clearly fooling her people. Now, the Bengal financial package is off. So Mamata will have to stew in her own juices. Mamata’s decline has started.

The PM has also said that he will not close the gates for FDI in pharmaceuticals. He’s also pushing his ministers to move faster in other areas like land reforms. Every single person I have spoken to, and every single media outlet including surprisingly Scam TV, are behind the government on its reforms program. Hopefully, the Congress will not blink at this important stage.

The entire FDI issue and the fiscal consolidation initiatives have given the Congress a great political space for itself. It was always the original champion of reforms; it has now asserted itself confidently in this space. Everyone else – from the BJP to the Left and the TMC – has called the Congress pro-US – a euphemism for being pro-reform. By occupying this place, the Congress has managed to shove the BJP leftwards – into the same crowded space occupied by so many others.

The real truth is that the time for reforms is here. Like I mentioned in my post yesterday, Mayawati “officially” has no ideologies. If the Congress can “take care of her”, it can have its way on reforms. Mulayam too says one thing and does another. The government clearly has the tailwinds for reforms…..will it now zip, zap and zoom?!

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