Shaken Congress on uncertain path; mixed response to Bharat Bandh

Last Updated: Thu, Sep 20, 2012 06:50 hrs
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There is no doubt about it. 

The Congress is shaken; not just by Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee's vitriol, but by the larger implications for what this means. 

"If a recent survey is correct, and we see an erosion of the Congress, then everyone will have to decide what kind of India we want to live in. Everyone is at odds with everyone else and the polity is hopelessly fractured. Does this help reform? Does this help India?" asked a serving Congress chief minister. 

Meanwhile, the Bharat Bandh called by the BJP and the Left parties on Thursday to protest the government's decisions to hike diesel prices, cap the number of subsidised LPG cylinders and against the decision to allow FDI in multi-brand retail  has got a mixed response so far. 

The decision of the All India Motor Transport Congress, the organisation representing truckers, transporters and bus operators across the country, to join the bandh has helped the opposition parties.

BJP leaders in Delhi were planning a protest march to the Prime Minister's Race Course residence and would court arrest, CNN-IBN reported.

BJP spokesperson and former Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and former Patna MP CP Thakur were the first big names to be detained by the police.

Among the top metros, Mumbai and Chennai remained unaffected, but Bangalore was badly hit.

In Delhi, local buses and metro rail services functioned normally, according to IANS.

Auto-rickshaws also seemed to ply normally on the capital's streets, while at markets, it was business as usual.

There were reports of trains being stopped in Bihar and UP, while Howrah in Kolkata saw clashes between BJP workers, who were supporting the bandh, and TMC workers, who were against it.

Supporters of the Samajwadi Party, expected to support UPA-II in the event of a confidence vote, held demonstrations in some parts of Uttar Pradesh and stopped a train in Allahabad in support of the bandh.

ANI has also reported that trains have been stopped in Howrah.

As always, in a crisis, every Congress leader has closed ranks. The effort is to engage, talk, persuade.

While the government, most members of Parliament and ministers are confident, is safe for the moment, a denouement is possible any time on the floor of the House.

The party's travails are many. 

It faces certain defeat in the coming assembly elections, beginning with Gujarat in November. 

The gains of the presidential elections, when it gained rather than lost allies, unlike the NDA, have been forgotten. Most important, "by bowing to allies with dubious credentials and making weird compromises, the party thinks it will strengthen itself on the floor of the House when in fact, it will further weaken its standing", said a chief minister.

Interestingly, the Congress is watching its allies making no effort to defend or save it. Two days into the crisis, only today, did agriculture minister Sharad Pawar come out and defend the foreign direct investment in retail decision. Although it is his ministry - agriculture - that will benefit the most from the back-end investment, given the way the policy has been structured.

The Congress is also a little bitter that allies like the Nationalist Congress Party have been unable to force through agricultural marketing reform, although they had ample chance to do so. On the other hand, Pawar’s silent support to Mamata Banerjee on the issue of presidential election - when she opposed Pranab Mukherjee for the job and caused a near crisis in the UPA - has been discussed in responsible party circles.

The Congress' biggest problem is Uttar Pradesh. If it compromises with Mulayam Singh Yadav and makes peace with the Samajwadi Party, it is likely to be reduced to playing second fiddle to Yadav, like the Tamil Nadu or West Bengal model. If it doesn’t, it risks losing the government at the Centre.

The important factor in the management of this sorry episode has also been that Rahul Gandhi has been invisible. This also raises questions about his further political internship.

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