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Looming shadow of Lucknow - The Observer

Inder Malhotra ()
27 November 1996

Title : Looming shadow of Lucknow
Author : Inder Malhotra
Publication : The Observer
Date : November 27, 1996

Less than six months ago, the fractured verdict in the
Parliamentary election was overcome by the formation of
the 13-party United Front which came to power with the
backing of the Congress from `outside'. Hopes had then
arisen that a new beginning towards federal functioning
and consensus-building might be made at long last. Sadly,
these expectations have already been delivered shatter-
ing, if not fatal, blows. The scene is New Delhi is
dismal and depressing.

To be sure, everything is not bleak. There is an import-
ant saving grace. No one has taken up H D Deve Gowda's
repeated challenge to name any of his ministers who might
have demanded bribes for sanctioning any project or for
any other reasons. This is a vast improvement over P V
Narasimha Rao's regime. But that is about all that can be
said be said on the positive side of the ledger.

Not to put any gloss on a dispiriting situation, the bad
governance under Narasimha Rao has been replaced by
practically no governance at all. The sole objective of
the Deve Gowda set-up continues to be to prolong its own
life by hook or by crook. All it can show for itself is
either murky manoeuvring, with a view to currying favour
with Rao by shielding him and his corrupt cohorts from
the massive wrongdoing they are charged with, or a series
of reckless populist promises which are difficult, if not
impossible, to keep.

Policy making and administration seem to be of no one's
concern, except for the minister for external affairs,
Inder Kumar Gujral, and the finance minister P Chidambar-
am, who are running their departments with skill. Gujral
is usually left alone to get on with the job. The
Leftists in the UF continue to harass the finance min-

Even the best friends of the UF had not expected it to be
a paragon of unity and cohesion. But few had foreseen
that dissensions within it will erupt so soon and assume
such grave proportions in so short a time. Things have
surely come to a sorry pass when Sita Ram Yechuri of the
CPI(M) has to call the Prime Minister to account for his
penchant for taking hordes of his family members to
places like Harare and Rome, presumably for an orgy of
shopping. Yechuri has taken note of Deve Gowda's as-
surance that his kith and kin will pay for the jaunts.
But he has asked the pertinent question: From where
exactly is the payment coming from Surely, the humble
farmer could not be having the ready cash!

To cap it all, the Prime Minister seems unable to broaden
his mind-set beyond the confines of Karnataka. None of
his predecessors had ever paid so frequent and apparently
unnecessary visits to his her won home town as Deve Gowda
visits Bangalore. His utterly unexpected announcement of

the raising of a Karnataka regiment of the army has sent
shivers among those responsible for managing the affairs
of the armed forces.

Instances of other rash and reckless statements made by
the Prime Minister, which he later had to resile from or
was forced not to implement, are even more instructive.
One fine morning, in order to placate Narasimha Rao, then
still both Congress president and leader of the Congress
Parliamentary Party, Deve Gowda conferred on him, as also
on other former Prime Ministers, the "cabinet status."
When a howl of protest greeted him, the Prime Minister
announced that lie was doing nothing of the kind.

Off his own bat, Deve Gowda promised the formation of the
state of Uttarakhand in the hills of UP. The CPI(M) has
compelled him to forget the idea. Jyoti Basu has stated
publicly that it was this hasty declaration which had
revived the demand for a Gorkhaland in West Bengal. From
the reckless promise to include Jats among the OBCs to
the brave commitment to extend reservations to the pri-
vate sector while lifting the ceiling of 50 per cent on
the reserved seats, the list of Deve Gowda's irresponsi-
ble statements is unending.

Suffice it to say that in some respects he has become
India's answer to the Pakistani military dictator and
Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA), Zia-ul-Haq. It
was said in Pakistan in Zia's time that the four letters
CMLA stood for "Cancel My Last announcement."

It is noteworthy the CPI(M) and other Leftists are not
alone in deploring the Prime Minister's proclivity to
speak out of turn. He has been criticised equally sharp-
ly by Chandra Babu Naidu and M Karunanidhi, his coalition
partners and chief ministers respectively of Andhra
Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

All this pales into insignificance, however, compared
with the breach that has developed between , Deve Gowda
and the seam-scared Laloo Yadav, at one time the Janata
Dal's strongman with a seemingly unshakeable base in
Bihar. Today, he is a pathetic figure. Deve Gowda's
gameplan is to oust Laloo from the Janata Dal president-
ship and take over that job himself, in addition to being
the head of government. Laloo wants Gowda out, and for
this purpose he will not hesitate to make common cause
with Sitaram Kesri, the new Congress president, who has
his eye fixed on the chair of the Prime Minister in the
South Block.

This, indeed, brings one to arguably the most alarming
element in a worsening situation. The disarray in, and
disintegration of, the United Front might not have mat-
tered much, if either of two things could happen. One,
the Congress, still a larger entity than the core of the
UF, could somehow rejuvenate itself. And secondly, if
the BJP, shedding its communal bias and becoming accept-
able to all sections of Indians, could convert itself
into a credible party of the government.

Unfortunately, neither of these two things seems possi-
ble. On the
contrary, both the Congress and the BJP are in deeper
crisis than the
UF. The Congress, in continuous decline for long years,

now seems embarked on a suicidal course. It is indeed in
the grip of a civil war between the forces led by Sitaram
Kesri (an OBC who has close links with Laloo Yadav and
even with Deve Gowda's arch enemy, Rama Krishna Hegde)
and those still loyal to Narasimha Rao.

Quite clearly, Kesri wants to drive out Rao from the CPP
leadership before trying to displace Deve Gowda. The
wily Bihari's motives may not be of the best. But there
is little doubt that the real source of the Congress
party's inability to revive itself is Narasimha Rao's
shameless decision to stick to the leadership even though
his name is already mud, and he is responsible for the
party's present state.

How the BJP gets out of the morass it has got into is
difficult to foresee. After the recent Rajya Sabha elec-
tions from UP, hope had arisen that the non-BJP groups
might overcome their implacable hatreds. But it has
proved short-lived.

The very real danger looming before the country is that,
barring some miraculous developments, in the event of a
mid-term Lok Sabha, the current UP situation may well
arise at the national level.

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