A few days after the May general election, the Prime Minister of India addressed the Indian parliamentarians and addressed them on the topic “PM: How You Are Facing Defeat in UP.” This was quite a predictable move on the part of the ruling party, which had been reeling under the anti-coalition vote that it received. The fact that the PM had to do this in the parliament again, where the opposition is in a majority, speaks volumes about his declining popularity. He did not even bother to secure an assurance of a mandate for his government’s performance in the last elections. And, speaking of mandate, it is the only way his government can call itself “prime ministers” – it lacks one.
After winning a thumping majority in the first phase of voting, the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) realized it was no longer in a position to control the opposition with an iron hand. It could not keep the opposition within its fold. Hence, it formed a government of its own, which then started dealing with the opposition parties on the same lines as the NDC. But that was before Rahul Gandhi and other senior leaders from the opposition took over the party. They revamped the party, taking in key players who were close to the former prime minister, and began to work actively and unceasingly to unseat the government.
At first, there was a hue and cry from the opposition parties as the government moved to dismiss a number of cabinet members who were perceived to be loyalists of the former ruling party. The removal of cabinet members led to a number of defections from the ruling benches. But despite this rebellion, the PM was able to retain his party’s tally in the lower house of Parliament (forms of the lower house resemble the upper house), and retained his overall lead as prime minister. In doing so, the PM showed his ability to lead when faced with dissent, and by effectively building coalitions, he also demonstrated that his party has something to fall back on, should it lose the next elections.
This led to speculations that Rahul Gandhi will lead the party into another election at some point in the future. Rahul is already the face of the new generation of leaders of the Congress party, and there have been high expectations that he will emerge as the future PM. However, with the recent spat between the PM and Rahul, it has raised many questions about the Gandhi camp’s chances of retaining power. Many political pundits are of the view that Rahul won’t be able to maintain the PM’s support in the long term, as the leadership contest between the two leaders has left many Indians divided between their support for Rahul or for his main rival – the prime ministerial candidate – Rajiv Gandhi.
This is not surprising, especially given that Rahul had lost the confidence of the opposition. His recent performance in the Assembly elections had also dented his prospects of becoming the PM. But the larger concern is what happens to the opposition if the PM fails to form a government? Will the opposition parties still be in a position to block a government that comes into being without the help of the PM?
The last few months have seen a change of government in New Delhi. The transfer of the portfolios of the cabinet members was completed early this month. The reshuffle was done in an orderly manner, with each ministry assigned to a group of cabinet ministers. The PM also had the luxury of picking members of the opposition parties to form the new cabinet. This gives the PM – who is undoubtedly popular among the opposition – a better chance to make a win-win deal with the opposition and find a balance between the fiscal policy and social policy.
The removal of a cabinet that includes members of the ruling party, along with Rahul Gandhi, is a clear indication of how the PM is doing away with his past mistakes. However, many people question whether this is the right move to make by the PM, given that the opposition has been demanding for Rahul’s removal from the top post due to corruption charges against him. Will the new PM simply entrust the caretaker of the opposition party to his son – who is widely seen as a spoilsport by the opposition? The PM is unlikely to be able to maintain a delicate balance, especially given that there is no doubt that Rahul’s future will be more polluted by the worsening economic situation.
It is expected that the PM will make a statement to the nation on the very day he sends out PM invites to all the opposition parties. There are speculations that he might declare that he has accepted the resignations of both the house speaker and leader – but no one is sure. If the PM declares that he accepts the resignations, then the process of selecting a new PM can begin. Whether the PM’s decision will bring about a significant change in the economy is doubtful.