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Byelection readings - The Observer

Dina Nath Mishra ()
20 February 1997

Title : Byelection readings
Author : Dina Nath Mishra
Publication : The Observer
Date : February 20, 1997

United Front government led by Deve Gowda had come into being after
President Dr S D Sharma received a letter from the then Congress
President Narasimha Rao conveying unconditional support of his
party. The Congress had explained its support to the nation that
it had done it to keep the communal forces out of power and
strengthen the forces of secularism. The CWC has changed its stand
in a resolution passed on Sunday last, revoking the unconditional
support and made it issue-based.

Technically speaking, the President can take the earlier letter of
unconditional support as redundant in the light of February 16
resolution. Political observers do not attach any significance to
the changed political stance of the Congress for good reasons. On
the other hand, the CPI(M) in its just concluded central committee
meeting has expressed total disagreement with the UF government.
Their volume of criticism has increased. Political observers do not
attach any, importance to this louder voice of criticism against
the UF government.

Both these political exercises of the Congress and the CPI(M) are
geared to distance themselves from the Gowda establishment. It is
an impossible task as they are the main pillars on which the Gowda
government rests. As far as the CPI(M) criticism is concerned, it
is just a matter of double speak. Their duplicity is not going to
convince anybody.

The central committee's criticism of the UF government of its
economic agenda enumerating nearly a dozen issues, complaining
about non-implementation of the CMP, opening the gates for
multinationals for insurance and coal - all these and many more are
empty words, and do not mean anything either to the government or
to the masses. It only adds a leaf or two to the record register
of the party. The words of CPI(M) do not match its actions;
actions are just to the contrary. They may complain about the
continuation of the Congress economic policy by the UF government,
but they are most eager to save the Gowda government at any cost.
After the central committee meeting, CPI(M) has advised the
government to have a better liaison with the Congress. In fact,
party general secretary Harkishan Surjeet has been doing the
liaison work between the UF and Congress party. This shows how
much they care for their programmes and policies.

In fact, the pre-budget political scenario of the country has added
vigour to Deve Gowda government. Had Congress not lost in Punjab,
Chindwara, Nagaur etc, it might have withdrawn support from the UF
government in the budget session itself. For, they are eager to
form the government and they would have gathered strength to go for
a midterm poll. Now they cannot dare invite the mid-term poll. Most
of the Congress MPs are afraid of facing the election. The mood of
the masses reflects the depleting support of Congress even in the
places of their strongholds. Today, Congress is in a worse shape
than it was under Rao's leadership. A new phase of political
churning is going on after the results of Punjab and a dozen and a
half byelections spread over most part of the country.

In Punjab, the thunderous victory of Akali-BJP alliance has made
pulp of both Congress and Leftist parties. Risible explanations
have been forwarded by both. Congress has blamed the governmental
failure of the UF. The CPI(M) has blamed CPI's opportunistic
alliance for the debacle. Nothing can be more absurd than these.
Congress had won 1992 elections because the Akalis did not
participate. The participation of the voters was also minimal. In
the later period, the Congress gave very bad governance to Punjab
and this also contributed in its stunning defeat. Had there been a
Congress-BSP alliance it would not have made much of a difference.
It might have resulted a dozen seats more to the combine.

The most significant of the defeats of Congress is in Chindwara in
Madhya Pradesh. Congress has never been defeated here. Kamal Nath
retained Chindwara uninterrupted from 1977 onwards. Even in 1996
when he was denied ticket for being hawala-tainted, his hold was
demonstrated by the victory of his wife. Similar is the case of
Nagaur in Rajasthan. It is a Jat-dominated constituency. A Jat
stalwart like Ram Niwas Mirdha was defeated because of the
Congress, and a new Jat entrant won because of the BJP. BJP won the
Phulera assembly byelection also, which again is a traditional
Congress bastion. Even in Gujarat, despite the unconstitutional
dismissal of the BJP government, the victory of BJP in Sarkhej
assembly constituency proved BJP's hold over the masses in Gujarat.

The fear of BJP coming to power among its opponents is reinforced
by all these elections. The results of UP byelections also confirm
it. This is a situation far more challenging to the opponents of
BJP than June 1996. The raison d'etre of coming together of more
than a dozen parties and unconditional support of Congress remains
intact and was further fortified by recent results. Against this
background, technical revocation of the unconditional support by
the Congress is more a result of internal wranglings. It must not
be viewed as a creation of a launching pad for withdrawal of

As far as CPI(M)'s central committee analysis is concerned, it is
targeted towards three objectives. One, by distancing from the UF
government CPI(M) wants to show that the party is not at all
responsible for mismanaging the economy and handling of various
corruption cases, including the fodder scam of Bihar. Secondly,
while being the principal pillar of the UF government, it wants to
grab opposition space inside and outside the Parliament. It is
noteworthy that CPI(M) general secretary, Harkishan Singh Surjeet
has announced a countrywide agitation for an alternative economy
policy, after criticising the UF economic policies severely. This
also proves that the Left parties are trading for opposition space
while doing everything to save the UF government.

The churning we see in the political scene at the macro level is
superficial reflex action. The ongoing churning at the micro level
is different. The Punjab elections and byelections reflect the
churning going on at the grassroot level. India Today conducted a
political survey in a recent issue, which showed that if mid-term
elections are held today, BJP would get 240 seats. The political
support base of the BJP has increased in Karnataka, Orissa and
Bihar remarkably. The mood in BJP is upbeat once again. In the
newspapers, there is a fashionable theory surfacing after regular
intervals that BJP has reached the plateau; it cannot but go down.
The theory has been demolished during all the three general
elections during the past decade in 1989, 1991 and 1996. Despite
the plateau propaganda, the BJP graph has gone up.

I have no doubt that misuse of Article 356 would be
counter-productive for anti-BJP formations in UP and Gujarat.

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