Thursday, January 18, 2007

Tried Tracking Ajit Singh’s Political Trail…am not too sure if I got everything!!!!!

Ajit Singh has done it again. In a short span of 19 years that he has been in politics, he has been with almost every political party worth its name in Uttar Pradesh. It is likely that the Rashtriya Lok Dal chief will take his party to the Congress camp ahead of the State Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh in April-May 2007.

Landing in the Lok Dal as its president in the immediate aftermath of his father, Choudhury Charan Singh’s death (on May 29, 1987), Ajit Singh could establish that consistency in the ideological or any other sense of the term, is not a virtue in politics. It is also a fact that he picked up the strings of this art from his father. It is another matter that Ajit Singh had lived far away, in distant USA when his father was setting up his own empire in Uttar Pradesh.

It will be appropriate in this context to recall the games that Charan Singh played in his political life and the fact that he managed to become the Prime Minister of India that way. A fleeting association with the Congress party until the early Sixties was enough for this down-to-earth politician from Baghpat to realize that his own future will be served better if he left the party. That was the time when the Congress was losing some of its sheen and the opposition emerging into a force.

Charan Singh, a Post-Graduate and also a lawyer, carved out a space for himself by raising the issue of prices of agricultural products and demanding subsidized fertilizers. The time he chose to raise this was when the focus of the central plans were shifting to agricultural growth facilitating the green revolution. In other words, Charan Singh could convince the Jat peasantry in Western Uttar Pradesh, parts of` Rajastan and Haryana that all the changes in government policy and the shift in favour of agriculture were due to his efforts. And this gave his Lok Dal the popular base that the non-Congress opposition could not ignore.

This gave Charan Singh the scope to decide the course of the anti-Congress political platform in Uttar Pradesh and since 1967, he could command a large army of legislators and MPs who were loyal to him in all sense of the term. Charan Singh, thus, could not only become the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh twice (though for very brief terms) between 1967 and 1970; he would also decide who the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister would be in 1977. He was the Union Home Minister then.

And all this while, he had no hesitation to align with anyone and everyone he felt like! And after having led an anti-Congress consolidation that way, he had no qualms compromising with Indira Gandhi, to become India’s Prime Minister. It did not matter to him that the Prime Minister’s job came with several strings attached and he had to go out of office without facing Parliament for a day!

This was the legacy that Ajit Singh inherited and from day one, this computer-engineer-turned-politician has not done anything to distance himself from that. His arrival into the Lok Dal set-up (the only consideration for this being his pedigree) led to a split in the party. H.N.Bahuguna, another veteran in UP politics was pushed out by Ajit Singh and the Lok Dal split into Lok Dal (Ajit) and Lok Dal (Bahuguna).

Bahuguna died soon after and Ajit Singh could find himself a place in the Janata Dal. He did not stay there for long because he lost the race for Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister to Mulayam Singh Yadav and also picked up a fight with V.P.Singh. Thus came the Janata Dal (Ajit). This helped him become a Union Minister in the Narasimha Rao cabinet. He would remain a Congress ally until he lost elections in 1998 from Baghpat.

It appeared that Charan Singh’s son was fading out of the UP political scene. But in 1999, he allied with the BJP and this helped him reinvent a political space in Uttar Pradesh. Ajit Singh, however, was not one who was fascinated with ideology. And the BJP would soon turn a communal party for him. In 2002, he struck an alliance with Mulayam Singh Yadav. Recall the fact that his problems with the Janata Dal began with Mulayam Singh becoming the Chief Minister in 1989!

The point in all this is that Ajit Singh has not had to worry about his social constituency every time he decides to relocate himself. Like his father, he is revered by the Jats in Western Uttar Pradesh. They do not bother about their leader being innocent of ideology. All that they want is that Charan Singh’s son must remain an MP and it is better if he is also a Minister. It is not their business to be concerned about the moral aspects involved in the shifting alliances and that too in a manner that defies all canons of political honesty and consistency.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Can anyone tell me what the CPI(M) stands for???

It is hard now, even for those familiar with the history of the communist movement in India, to make out what the CPI(M) stand is on a host of issues. If the Singur issue brought this confusion to the fore, it has only been confounded by the developments in Kerala where the Government has recently signed an agreement with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to avail of a loan of $221.2 Million for the Kerala Sustainable Urban Development Project.

The project involves a total expenditure of $ 316.1 Million. While the bulk of this will be funded by the ADB loan, the State Government will contribute $59.8 Million, the five Municipal Corporations in the State (Kochi, Thiruvanthapuram, Thrissur, Kollam and Kozhikode), where most of the money will be spent will raise the remaining $ 35.1 Million. All this money will be spent to improve water supply, sewerage and drainage system, roads and transportion within these cities.

Now, unlike in Singur, the opposition to this agreement and the project has come from inside the party. The Chief Minister, V.S.Achudanandan found himself in a difficult situation when the Finance Minister of the State, T.M.Thomas Issac made it known that the terms of the loan agreement were not discussed by the State Cabinet. For those unfamiliar with the internal dynamics of the CPI(M) in Kerala, Achudanandan had sought disciplinary action against Issac at the last Congress of the party in Delhi.

The charge against Issac was that he had co-authored a study report on the decentralization experience in Kerala with Richard Franke, an American academic and this was done without obtaining sanction from the party! Well. There was no action taken because Issac too had positioned himself in the Pinarayi Vijayan faction of the party. This alignment, in the factional sense, also helped Issac land as the Finance Minister in Achudanandan’s cabinet after the CPI(M)-led LDF wrested power in the State in may 2006. It is another matter that Vijayan himself lost the race for the Chief Minister’s job.

It appears that Issac was only getting back at the Chief Minister in the case of the ADB loan agreement now. But then, the CPI(M) being a party made of cadres and the cadre too aligned behind one or another leader (and no longer blind followers of the faith), the spat between Issac and Achudanandan had its repercussions in Mohamma in Allepey district. The party’s cadre, owing allegiance to the two leaders, is reported to have got into some street fighting in Mohamma. Issac represents the constituency in the State Assembly and Achudanandan too belongs to that part of Kerala.

The issue here is not about some internal squabbles in the party. This is, after all, now a part and parcel of the political culture in India. The Congress party, for instance, is faction ridden in almost all the States and its ranks have taken the fights to the streets on many occasions. The BJP too is caught up with this malaise. The number of Janata Dals that we have across the country exemplifies this culture. It is a different matter that this culture has rendered the democratic edifice weaker than it was. And in many ways, the present state of things in Jharkhand, where we have an independent MLA, Manu Koda as Chief Minister supported by the Congress (the single largest party in the Assembly), is the culmination of this progressive weakening of the party system.

Be that as it may. The issue here is not just about a clash of personalities and faction feuds. The roots of this are to be found in the state of confusion that dominates the thinking of its leaders on whether they should be seen as representing the cause of the underdogs and the deprived sections of the people or as another integral part of the establishment. In other words, while one section of the leaders (like Budhadeb Bhattacharya) are determined to put their past behind them and position the party as the obvious choice before the large middle classes, there are other in the party who seem to be believe that the party must pretend to be standing up for the marginalized and hence persist with the façade of being anti-establishment.

The fallout of this state of confusion is at two levels. With the clout that the CPI(M) has in the dispensation (the UPA depends on the party’s goodwill for its survival), this state of confusion is causing several problems for the liberalization-privatisation agenda. And in this sense, the CPI(M) is seen as a bunch of wreckers. At a different level, Singur and the ADB loan agreement (which comes with obvious conditions) will alienate the poor and the marginalized from the party.

The ADB loan for the Kerala Sustainable Urban Development Project comes with a condition that infrastructure projects are privatized, that all these services are taxed to the extent that the revenue generation is commensurate with the expenditure as well as repayment of the loan amount. This could mean higher charges for water, tolls for use of urban roads and other such public utilities. And all this will lead to popular anger against the dispensation of the same kind as it was seen against Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh (in May 2004) and Digvijai Singh in Madhya Pradesh (in November 2003).

This could mean that the party losing its clout in parliament at some date. And when this happens, the party will cease to be an important player in the political discourse. In other words, the present state of confusion could lead the CPI(M) to fall between two stools.

The battle that is now raging in Nandigram is only a pointer to the shape of things in the days to come. And this is a battle whose course cannot be determined by the Politburo of the party and Budhadeb Bhattacharya who is more a poster-boy for Manmohan Singh.