Pulls and pressures

Print edition : June 20, 1998

Coalition conflicts in the BJP-led Government in New Delhi show no signs of abating.

WHILE inaugurating a study camp for the Bharatiya Janata Party's first-time Members of Parliament at Jhinjholi in Haryana on June 6, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee expressed confidence that his Government would prove its majority in Parliament once again, if required. He said that the BJP's problems with its coalition partners such as the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the Trinamul Congress were not as serious as was made out by the media and could be resolved through discussions. However, the banter among a section of MPs at the camp made it clear that the first-time parliamentarians did not attach much credence to the Prime Minister's expression of confidence. They were talking of a mock test to find out who would make the best "Minister for Patch-up" in the coalition. "Given the way our government is functioning," one of the MPs told Frontline, "it could have been a real political exercise." "The requirement for a permanent Minister for Patch-up is evident."

The MPs' observations obviously stemmed from the pattern of politics in the ruling coalition during the Budget session of Parliament, which was in progress when the Jhinjholi camp was conducted. Every single coalition partner was adding to the internal tumult on a day-to-day basis, with the AIADMK and the Trinamul Congress in the lead. The AIADMK repeatedly staged walk-outs in Parliament demanding the dismissal of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) Government in Tamil Nadu. The Trinamul Congress, for its part, boycotted the House and suspended its support to the Government, accusing the BJP of not being tough enough with West Bengal's Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front Government.

The AIADMK had raised the demand ever since the coalition came to power. But the Trinamul Congress' demand with regard to the West Bengal Government followed the party's poor performance in alliance with the BJP in the local body elections in the State (story on page 44). The Trinamul Congress leadership had blamed the setback on the "highhandedness and unfair practices" of the State Government. The party had also alleged that the State BJP unit was diluting the struggle against the "oppressive regime of the Left Front".


Other coalition partners such as the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and the Samata Party also had their share of complaints. While the Samata Party was incensed at the lack of action against the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) Government in Bihar, the BJD leadership said that it had been given a raw deal with regard to a promised special development package for Orissa. The Samata Party leadership pointed out that BJP leaders such as Shatrughan Sinha had themselves said that the law and order situation in Bihar was far from satisfactory and yet the Centre was not prepared to dismiss the Rabri Devi Government. However, these two parties did not protest in Parliament.

As for the other coalition partners, the complaints of the Akali Dal have more or less been taken care of with the rolling back of the hike in urea prices and the proposed changes in the ordinance relating to the Central Electricity Regulatory Authority. The Punjab-based party was perturbed over the ordinance and the hike in urea prices, both of which it perceived as anti-farmer. However, smaller partners such as the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) have made bold to join hands with Opposition parties such as the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in criticising the BJP Government in Uttar Pradesh for its failure to commit itself to going in appeal against the Allahabad High Court's June 10 order excluding as many as 21 Other Backward Classes from the list of groups eligible for reservation.

THE not-so-successful attempts by the BJP leadership to mollify the party's disgruntled allies evidently made the first-time BJP MPs sceptical about the Prime Minister's show of confidence. One day before the Jhinjholi camp, talks with Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee had shown signs of success with the West Bengal-based party announcing the withdrawal of its decision to suspend its support to the Vajpayee Government. The party also announced the end of its boycott of Parliament. The relationship between the parties, however, soured soon over the sharing of seats for the Assembly byelections and the municipal corporation polls in West Bengal. Accusing Mamata Banerjee of unilaterally announcing her candidates for the Assembly byelections in the Bowbazar, Chanditala and Rashbehari constituencies, BJP State president Tapan Sikdar said that the Trinamul Congress leader was "jeopardising the unity" between the two parties by acting in an "irresponsible, immature and childish manner". This development resulted in the collapse of the "peace arrangement" between the two parties and the Trinamul Congress resumed an unannounced boycott of Parliament.

The AIADMK's sustained campaign in Parliament against the DMK Government and the manner in which the BJP has handled it have become the subject of sarcasm in political and media circles in New Delhi. Central to the lampooning of the ruling coalition is the irony of a party in government organising walk-outs in Parliament. The reasons given by the AIADMK for the walk-outs included "the collapse of the law and order situation" in Tamil Nadu, "the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) connection of Ministers in the Tamil Nadu Government" and "the State Government's failure to take measures for farmers' welfare."

The BJP leadership's strategy has been to hold a series of meetings with the coalition partner with the professed objective of making the AIADMK see reason. AIADMK MPs have had two meetings with the Prime Minister. Party supremo Jaya-lalitha also has had two meetings with him in the last one month. During these discussions, the BJP leadership apparently explained why the Centre found it difficult to concede the demand. Primarily, the BJP leadership has the apprehension that President K.R. Narayanan might return any recommendation for the dismissal of the Tamil Nadu Government as he did in the case of the Kalyan Singh Government in Uttar Pradesh during the United Front regime at the Centre.

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee with members of Parliament belonging to the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and its allies at his residence in New Delhi on June 10. The delegation presented a memorandum containing a set of demands on the Sri Lankan ethnic issue.-SHANKER CHAKRAVARTY

Secondly, the BJP leadership also feels that the judiciary might question the move. Thirdly, the party is of the view that the consequences of such an action in Tamil Nadu in other parts of the country will be difficult to contain. However, speaking for a section of AIADMK MPs, one of them told Frontline that "the BJP is ready to do the needful" if we create the situation for the dismissal of the Government. "Our agitation in Parliament and in the State are part of efforts to create such a situation," a Rajya Sabha member of the AIADMK said.

According to a section of AIADMK MPs, if the leadership had its way it would have preferred to pull down the Vajpayee Government and have an understanding with the Congress(I). But so far the Congress(I) leadership has not shown any inclination to seize the opportunity. According to Congress(I) insiders, the party is not confident of providing reasonably good governance in the present context, and hence its hesitance. It is this reluctance of the Congress(I) that appears to be the most important factor that helps the BJP in its survival exercise at present. This means that fighting the chaos caused by its own allies will be a prolonged affair for the BJP.

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