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Mainstream, VOL L, No 30, July 14, 2012

Union Ministers Embarrass UPA


Sunday 15 July 2012, by SC

With the BJP bowing to former Karnataka CM and Lingayat strongman B.S. Yedurappa’s demand for a change of guard in the leadership of the State Government in Bengaluru, Vokkaliga leader D.V. Sadananda Gowda has tendered his resignation from the post of head of government and a new CM—Jagdish Shettar—has replaced him. This change once again shows the strength of Yeddyurappa while also exposing deep factional fissures within the party; it further makes a mockery of the BJP’s “crusade” against corruption in the backdrop of growing revelations of Yeddyurappa’s alleged links with the mining mafia. At the same time issues of development and livelihood have been relegated into the background especially when drought has struck parts of the State—a fresh testimony to the hollowness of the party’s professed commit-ment to governance.

Meanwhile the public pronouncements of two Union Minister have caused considerable embarrassment for the UPA as a whole. On July 9 Law Minister Salman Khurshid made a candid observation in an interview to a newspaper saying the root of the problems plaguing the Congress was the lack of “ideological direction” from the next generation leader Rahul Gandhi. The BJP was quick to support Khurshid for this remark leaving the latter red-faced and forcing him to beat a 180-degree turn to claim that his observation was “misinterpreted”.

More striking was Finance Minister P. Chidam-baram’s comments in Bengaluru before the media the following day. “When the urban middle class can buy a bottle of mineral water for Rs 15 and ice-cream for Rs 20, why do they make so much noise about price rise?” he asked. He also felt “there needn’t be any complaint for price rise when things are on the side of poor farmers”. This was reminiscent of what PM Manmohan Singh had said sometime ago: “Food inflation may be a sign of growing prosperity.”

The Opposition reacted swiftly with the BJP and CPM recalling French Queen Mary Antoinette’s words before the French Revolution: “Let the people eat cake if they don’t have bread.” Even the NCP, the Congress’ ally in the UPA, taunted Chidambaram saying it wished every common man in India was as prosperous as him. And the CPI General Secretary noted: “The Harvard University trained Home Minister seems to be competing with Planning Com-mission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia for the coveted post of Finance Minister and wants to prove that he has a better neo-liberal mindset... The nation can no longer afford such insensitive and anti-poor personalities as FM.”

The Union Home Ministry had to issue a clarification saying the Minister did not “mock” or “chide” anyone as stated in the newspaper report—rather, he had made a matter-of-fact statement. However, the substance of Chidambaram’s comments was not denied.

Such insensitivity only magnifies the widening gap of the Congress stalwarts with the public at large.

And as the presidential poll hots up with press reports pointing to Pranab Mukherjee’s distinct edge over his rival P.A. Sangma, some observers have suggested that a repeat of the 1969 presidential election (wherein ‘conscience vote’ played a crucial role) cannot possibly be ruled out.

July 12 S.C.

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