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Manoeuvring took the centrestage - The Financial Express

Devsagar Singh ()
December 31, 1997

Title: Manoeuvring took the centrestage
Author: Devsagar Singh
Publication: The Financial Express
Date: December 31, 1997

It has been a roller coaster drive through 1997 for major
political parties, thanks to a fractured verdict of the
electorate in 1996. Congress was on the run, BJP was in the thick
of an untouchability syndrome till the end of the year, and the
motley group of regional formations, better known as the United
Front, fought for survival through the politics of coalition.

Overall, India Inc suffered due to uncertainties on foreign
investment inflows, the refusal of industrial growth to pick up,
lacklustre stock-market performance, and unfinished work on
crucial pieces of legislation relating to the Companies Act and
Foreign Exchange Regulation Act.

Politicians must share the largest chunk of the blame for this,
thanks to their unprincipled manoeuvring. HD Deve Gowda came too
close to his predecessor PV Narasimha Rao, something which Rao-
baiters like Sitaram Kesri didn't like. The result? He was pulled
down from the prime ministerial chair.

Not that his replacement was better. Inder Kumar Gujral headed a
barely functional government and lasted till Kesri decided to
pull the rug again. Another fall of the government within the
span of less than a year, something unparalleled in the political
history of the country.

While all this was happening, the Bharatiya Janata Party was
fighting with its back to the wall the label of untouchable
pasted on it by all its political adversaries. Atal Behari
Vajpayee, who faded to muster up enough strength to keep his
government in power in May 1996, failed yet again to break either
the Congress or other parties in November this year when it
attempted to stake another claim to form an alternative
government at the Centre. But, strangely, the BJP's
untouchability ended the moment it broke up with the party of
dalits, the Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh.

The irony of it all was that the BJP's lotus started blooming as
soon as it decided to descend into the muck in Uttar Pradesh. The
party, which claimed to stand for principles in politics, opted
for the politics of expediency when UP Chief Minister Kalyan
Singh virtually bought over a large chunk of Congress legislators
and made them ministers.

The party appeared all set to repeat UP at the Centre. but for
some Machiavellian politics played by Kesri who gave no chance to
his herd. No wonder the BJP has left Ram in the lurch, Article 3
70 in limbo and the common civil code in cold storage. It has to
attract leaders of other political parties, namely its arch rival
Congress, to its fold.

But how united was the United Front, the formation which ruled
the country for close to 20 months? Despite its much touted
common minimum programme (CMP), it faltered on many issues,
thanks to internecine squabbles of desperate groups. The half-way
attempt to bring about an agriculture labour bill, the insurance
sector reforms, the targeted public distribution system, the
women's reservation bill and Lok Pal bill bear ample testimony to
it all.

If anything, mistrust, suspicion and revolting ambition on the
part of some marked the UF regime. No wonder, the front cracked
in between, with Laloo Yadav forming his Rashtriaya Janata Dal
(RJD) weeks before he was arrested in the fodder scam case.

The crack in the front was inevitable, given the contradictions
among the constituents. No Yadav could tolerate another Yadav
beyond a point. So it was that Laloo and Sharad Yadav fell apart
on the question of leadership of the Janata Dal. Already, there
was no love lost between Laloo and Mulayam Singh Yadav.

The Left, specially the CPI (M), could not escape its share of
responsibility in the entire drama, with Harkishan Singh Surjeet
the main villain. The CPI(M) general secretary, seeking power
without responsibility, could not help poking his nose in every
affair of the government. If Gowda gave him a free hand, Gujral
tried to keep him at arm's length In both situations, he only
queered the pitch for the smooth functioning of the front.

Among the highlights (or low lights?) of 1997 were the framing of
charges against former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao in the JMM
MPs payoff case, Laloo Yadav's arrest in the multi-crore fodder
scam case and the Jain commission report leak on Rajiv Gandhi's
assassination, which ultimately led to the fall of the Gujral

An exodus from the Congress party and a mad rush towards the BJP,
of course, forms part of the closing scene in 1997. Never in the
history of the Congress has the party seen such evil days, thanks
to a lacklustre leadership. It led to a renewed pressure on Sonia
Gandhi to take up the leadership of the Congress to infuse new
life in it.

Conversely, the BJP too appears to be in a major dilemma. Having
opened its gates to outsiders, where does it stop now? Already
rumblings of disquiet are being heard from its ranks.

The major gain of the party is that it made inroads into states
like Tamil Nadu in the south and Orissa in the east through
alliances with AIADMK and Biju Janata Dal (BJD), respectively. It
is trying to put across its image as a pan-Hindu party which also
opens its arms to Muslims and other minorities. Indeed, judging
by the present trend, BJP has forged ahead through most of 1997.
Much of the credit goes to liberal leader Atal Behari Vajpayee
whose acceptability as Prime Minister has never been in doubt. If
Kesri presides over the liquidation of the Congress party,
Vajpayee looks set to lead the BJP to the next century.

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