Not taking it lying down

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Post the 2G and Anna-Ramdev fiasco, the Congress has now turned a new leaf and adopted an aggressive approach in tackling the BJP over their demand for Manmohan Singh’s resignation. Brijesh Pandey on the war of political one-upmanship and how this has stalled Parliament

It is perhaps the biggest political Opposition UPA-2 has faced, and both the Congress and BJP are in no mood to relent this time. With nine days of the Monsoon Session already lost, political tempers in the Capital are soaring high.

Demanding nothing less than the prime minister’s resignation, the BJP is accusing the Congress of making “mota maal” out of coal block allocations. UPA Chairperson and Congress President Sonia Gandhi has accused the BJP of holding Parliament to ransom and resorting to blackmail for its “political bread and butter”.

The Congress’ stance has taken everyone, including the BJP, by surprise. Hurtling from one political crisis to another, the party has hit-back aggressively with its uncanny political incisiveness in dealing with the Opposition. Compare this to the way 2G, Anna and Baba Ramdev issues were handled. From being arrogant and bookish to being realistic and full of tact, a lot has changed for the Congress’ fire-fighting department. So what brought about this change of tactics in the Congress party?

According to Harish Rawat, Congress spokesperson and MoS, Parliamentary Affairs, one of the biggest mistakes that the Congress has been making is mistaking propriety for politics. “Last time (during the 2G case), the biggest error on our part was that we had overread the rules,” says Rawat. “We quoted books and procedures. We said that when the CAG gives a report in any issue, it is the PAC that chooses the subject to review. The prime minister even went on to say that if the PAC were to examine him, he would have no qualms in appearing before it. If we had not said that the PAC would do it, then there would have been no problem.” This time around, though, the Congress has used common sense. The second they raised the coal issue in Parliament, Sushil Kumar Shinde immediately agreed to discuss it. “The moment we are ready for discussion they (the BJP) were cornered,” adds Rawat.

A senior Congress functionary also said that unlike last time, the party has a better grip of things. “There are talks about how the Trinamool Congress might dump us or how the Samajwadi Party might choose to take a different line,” he says. “Nothing of this sort will happen. No political party is ready or willing to go for an early election. We are not giving any importance to political posturing this time. We know that every political party has their own constituency to cater to.” And he is right. Saying something and actually doing it is very rare in politics. Theories of UPA-2 collapsing also seem to be wishful thinking that reeks of political immaturity. The media has been speculating removal of Manmohan Singh from the prime minister’s post. Singh remains the prime minister even after eight years.

After a leading paper published a report that the UPA was expecting an en masse resignation of BJP MPs after they walked out of the JPC, and that the Congress is considering to contest these seats, it set the cat among pigeons. Sushma Swaraj and other BJP leaders immediately denied any credence to such rumours. “The reality is that their (BJP) MPs are extremely unwilling to walk down that path,” says the senior Congressman. “So this time our strategy is a judicious mix of aggression and restraint. We have the numbers and the backing of our allies. The BJP has no option but to buckle down.”

This aggression was in full show when Sonia Gandhi, while addressing the Congress Parliamentary Committee, asked her MPs to go on the offensive. “We need to fight the intemperate criticism and negative politics of the BJP,” she said. “We must effectively go out, and rebut and repel them in the upcoming elections.”

What has also worked in favour of the Congress this time, is a unified voice on almost all the crises that the party has faced in the past few months. Compare this to when statements by senior leaders like Digvijaya Singh and Manish Tewari during the Anna agitation unwittingly helped in stoking anti-Congress feelings. Tewari was even removed as the spokesperson for sometime.

Moreover, even within the NDA, the BJP is isolated in its demand of the PM’s resignation. Not oblivious of this, the Congress is exploiting the situation to the hilt. Both the Akali Dal and the JD(U), the BJP’s closest allies, are in favour of discussions within Parliament rather than stalling it. Even attempts to rope in the likes of TMC and other parties have failed miserably.

A senior member from one of its partners says on condition of anonymity: “For how long can you stall the Parliament? Which party will let its PM resign because the Opposition has asked for it?” Arun Jaitley,however, disagrees that BJP is isolated on this issue, adding that even if it were to fight alone, it will be a majestic isolation.

The Congress also understands that though the BJP might feel like it has chanced upon a Bofors-like issue that might reap electoral dividends, the reality is far removed. Though it deputed Sushil Kumar Shinde to talk to Opposition leaders, this time the Congress isn’t bending over too much. A section of leaders within the party feel that the BJP’s posturing has more to do with the Assembly elections in Gujarat and Karnataka, rather than the 2014 General election.

Rawat believes the BJP has erred badly in asking for the PM’s resignation. “In The Mahabharata, there is a weapon called Brahma Shiva Astra that either hits the target or destroys the person who fired it. The BJP has fired a Brahma Shiva Astra,” he says. “It now has no choice but to either go back on its demand or take the blame for obstructing Parliament.”

Satyavrat Chaturvedi of the Congress adds: “With Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev, we faced repercussions for the way we dealt with these protests. This time we changed the strategy and the result is for everyone to see. The same applies to the BJP. The only question that needs to be asked is why is it shying away from a debate inside Parliament. Is it because of Raman Singh, Shivraj Singh Chauhan or Vasundhra Raje? This time we also know why they don’t want to discuss anything.”

While the game of political brinkmanship continues, it will require political wizardry to solve this crisis, as both parties know that any backing down might spell political hara-kiri. The stalemate continues.

Brijesh Pandey is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka. 
[email protected]

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