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Showdown In Jurassic Park
Give this Opposition a neatly-scripted drama and chances are they will mess it up. The way it’s handled Tehelkagate proves that. Observers say the exposé should have inspired a concerted attack on the government’s exposed flanks. Instead, the Opposition is too busy fighting itself. In the aftermath of the scandal, every issue except corruption is being discussed. Predictably, not even an elementary plan of action exists. Chaos reigns supreme.
The Congress says it will decide its course at its March 17-18 Bangalore plenary. The Left and the Samajwadi Party have revived the Third Front, with an emphasis on anti-poor policies rather than corruption charges against the nda regime. The tapes have given the bsp’s Mayawati an excuse to beat an old drum: the bjp’s anti-Dalit policies, evident in the way it sacrificed Bangaru Laxman so promptly. Says a Congress leader: "Credit George’s resignation to demands within the nda rather than the Opposition." He’s probably right.
The most visible sign of division is what SP leader Amar Singh calls the ‘anti-bjp, anti-Congress’ People’s Front. True to their calling, Jyoti Basu and Mulayam Yadav introduced this old-new platform by first attacking the Congress, then moving on to the bjp. "People have seen Congress rule for 30-40 years and are disillusioned with it," said Yadav. Basu took pains to reiterate this.
The Congress is not too enamoured of the new front. Says chief whip P.R. Dasmunshi: "We’re the principal opposition party, not the Third Front. Mulayam’s party is obsessed with the Congress. Why are you asking me to react?" It’s not just the Congress. Mocks Ajit Singh: "What Third Front? There are three Left parties, the SP and three ex-PMs." Even the ncp’s Praful Patel slights the "so-called front" at a time when unity is needed. The forthcoming assembly polls compound the confusion. "Don’t forget there are elections in Kerala and West Bengal where the Congress will be fighting the Left," says a Congress MP.
The only one who retains his optimism is Congress spokesman S. Jaipal Reddy: "We are united in our demand against the nda. We’ll also achieve unity in action when necessary." But over the past two years, the government has watched in amusement as the SP and the Congress squabbled in Parliament. Says Pramod Mahajan: "At least two parties (SP and ncp) don’t recognise Sonia Gandhi as leader of the Opposition." ncp leader Patel concurs: "We’re not obliged to cooperate with any particular person on Opposition unity." This is reflected in voting patterns on the floor—recently, the ncp abstained on the balco vote; even Mayawati is unpredictable, as evidenced during the Ayodhya vote.
Given the current fight for Opposition space, this is as good as it can get. The cpi(m)’s Somnath Chatterjee does concede that this disunity "benefits nobody more than the government". But forming a front that excludes the chief Opposition party is hardly the way to amend this. Each of them may want the same thing—to see the back of the nda—but the combined effect of their expression is cacophony.