Although the next general elections for the government at the Centre is due in 2014, the UPA allies have been successful in keeping the Congress-led government on the tenterhooks. Sucheta Dalal
As this column goes to print, the Railway Budget is shrouded in controversy while the Union Budget is still to be presented. This year, however, instead of worrying about how the Budget proposal will impact corporate profits or tax rates, the nation is gripped by the issue of the very survival of the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government which seems to lurch from one debacle to another.
Disarray, discontent and disconnect are evident everywhere, whether it is policy (aviation crisis or FDI in retail or ban on cotton exports), disinvestment (ONGC), or politics. In Uttarakhand, the little state where the Congress emerged the single largest party, it managed to create an open revolt among its own legislators by foisting Vijay Bahuguna as the chief minister. What should have been a triumphant swearing-in ceremony was marked by the absence of 18 of its 32 ministers and slogans raised against the Congress’ central observer Ghulam Nabi Azad. Harish Rawat, who was denied the post, also managed to prove the point that he could topple the government, which has only 32 of the 70 Assembly seats, any day he chooses.
But worse was to come the next day. Railway minister Dinesh Trivedi, of the Trinamool Congress, whipped up a storm, because he raised railway fares (after 10 years and when it is already evident that the Railways are in dire straits financially and have little money for safety and maintenance). The high drama that followed included Mr Trivedi virtually being sacked on television. While the Congress salvaged some dignity by refusing to give in to West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s tantrums, it is not without suspicion of multiple layers of deal-making which may or may not ensure his survival. As we go to print, Mr Trivedi and his Budget remain intact; so does the Trinamool alliance with UPA. But who knows what will happen next.