Political tamasha

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

In the theatre of the absurd known as Uttar Pradesh, the oddest things happen with complete nonchalance. With elections called to the State Assembly, it ought to have been curtains for political histrionics of the kind witnessed over the past fortnight. Yet on Monday, Chief Minister Mulayam Singh won a second vote of confidence in one month — this time with sections of the Opposition holding the house in a purposeless gherao, and the main Opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, reduced to the status of a sorry spectator. Mr. Singh sailed through the exercise as only a man of his sangfroid and political skills can. In a tenure of three and a half years, he has sought and won close to two dozen confidence motions in the face of relentless opposition pressure. The trigger for the latest floor test was the February 14 judgment of the Supreme Court, disqualifying 13 former Bahujan Samaj Party MLAs who propped up the Samajwadi Party Government in August 2003. The judgment did not require the Chief Minister to reassert his strength. But this is not all. Once the Election Commission announced a seven-phase poll schedule, the need for a floor test disappeared. After all, parliamentary convention is for a defeated Prime Minister or Chief Minister to stay on as caretaker until the election produces a new government.
It is a different matter that the party leading the Central government has been impervious to such reasoning. With only 15 seats in the State Assembly but in command at the Centre, the Congress continued to issue dark threats about President's Rule. Earlier, Congress spokespersons argued that the disqualifying judgment had robbed the Mulayam Singh regime of its legitimacy. When this argument collapsed, the contention was that there could be no free and fair elections if the Mulayam government remained in place. In effect, Congress bosses have been questioning the ability of the Election Commission, which has gone the extra mile in U.P., ensuring 95 per cent Central force coverage for an election staggered over seven phases so that at any given time there would be no more than 60 seats to oversee. For its part, the BSP enacted a farcical mass resignation drama on the eve of the trust vote; the resignation letters of its MLAs reached Mayawati instead of the house Speaker! Of a piece with this deception was another fiction by the BSP. The party insisted that the Assembly was illegally in session, ignoring the Election Commission's authoritative clarification that the term would end only on May 14. Ironically, in 2001, Samajwadi Party MLAs resigned en masse on the same specious ground. With elections approaching, it is time for all serious players to get serious.


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