Indian Decade

Don’t Count the UPA Government Out Just Yet

Despite the loss of its second largest coalition ally, it would be premature to write the Singh government off.

The 40-month-old government coalition known as the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), led by the Congress Party, faced an existential question recently when its biggest ally, the Trinamool Congress (TMC, which has 19 members in the Lok Sabha) announced it was withdrawing  its support to the government for the latter’s slew of politically-contentious economic policies, like a steep increase in diesel prices. Though a jubilant Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the main opposition party, predicted that mid- term polls were imminent, it is still difficult to dislodge the UPA government.

The UPA government’s miseries are likely to be increased by a wily Mulayam Singh Yadav, leader of the Samajwadi Party (which has 22 members in the Lok Sabha), eyeing personal gains. However, his arch-rival Mayawati, leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP, which has 21 members in the Lok Sabha), is likely to bailout the UPA government and thus increase her party’s leverage for the first time after her humiliating defeat in the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls six months ago.

On the other hand, what should bring cheers to the ruling UPA coalition is that its second largest ally, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK, which has 18 members in the Lok Sabha), has said that it would continue to support the Manmohan Singh government.

With her announcement on Tuesday, Mamata Banerjee, the mercurial TMC leader and chief minister of West Bengal, who has been threatening for months to withdraw her support unless the government scaled down its recent reform decisions, has finally made good on these threats. The Congress, however, is unlikely to budge. There is a growing clamor within the party leadership that Prime Minister Singh should display the same character and grit in pushing the envelope on economic reforms as he did in 2008 when he staked the UPA I government’s survival on the India-U.S. nuclear deal. The Congress Party’s senior leader Digvijay Singh, considered close to Rahul Gandhi, has staunchly defended the government’s economic decisions and underlined the need for standing firm.

Banerjee walked out of the UPA government over a set of new reform policies including ordering an unprecedented hike of five rupees for diesel per liter and deciding to open up five crucial sectors, including retail and aviation, for foreign direct investment. Though this is a trying political crisis for the UPA II government, potentially impacting its political longevity, it may be too early to write the government’s eulogy given the badly fragmented and divided opposition it faces. For its own part, the Congress Party has yet to write off Mamata Banerjee and has continued to describe her Trinamool Congress as “a valuable ally.”