The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s eyes are fixed on two meetings to be held this month as it tries to battle the grounds of protests against its decision to increase diesel prices and limit the number of subsidied cooking gas cylinders.
Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congres (TMC) has called a meeting on Tuesday in which she will decide on whether to withdraw TMC ministers from the UPA government. The second is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s National Executive meeting, which will be held at the end of the month in Surajkund, Haryana, in which Nitin Gadkari’s presidentship of the party will be endorsed for a second term.
The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has called for a Bharat Bandh on September 20 which the Left parties are going to join. But this doesn’t appear to represent a real challenge for the government. The Shiv Sena has already excused itself from the bandh, claiming that the ongoing Ganeshotsav fesitivities do not permit it to enforce a bandh. Therefore, with the BJP alone observing a bandh, it is likely to be a washout in Maharashtra.
NDA seems to be ready to strike, but afraid of wounding the government. A top NDA leader said Banerjee had hinted she would pull ministers out of the government. “Mamata Banerjee is not in the habit of making empty threats”, the leader said. In that situation, if the UPA goes into a minority, would the NDA consider creating conditions for an early election? “That decision will be taken at the end of the month” said a top NDA functionary, suggesting the cue would have to be given by BJP at its national executive meeting.
If Gadkari is to lead BJP, he will have to decide how far the party should go along with the government’s reform project. This dilemma is clear from the statements of leaders who influence economic policy like Jagadish Shettigar, who take a nuanced position on issues like foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail. “We are not opposed to it but we want to know what it will do for farmers,” he said.
In UPA, the dominant view is to let the allies and opposition do their worst, and then set about hardselling the upside of the decisions the government has taken. Already, UPA claims the allies had been sounded out before the diesel price hike was effected. Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia claimed as much in an interview. Government managers said they were ready for Round 2– TMC withdrawing its ministers from the government which will seriously erode its political incentive to shore up the UPA government.
But UPA managers saw little hope for the legislative route to reform. The bills on banking, land acquisition, pension and education are still pending. With the consensus on reform having broken down irretrievably following the decisions taken last week, the government will have to labour uphill with the opposition for even small legislative gestures.