INHERENT contradictions within the opportunistic UPA came to the fore not only on the issue of the atrocious hike in fuel prices but also over OBC reservations and nomination to the Rajya Sabha seat which fell vacant following the death of senior BJP leader Pramod Mahajan.
Ignoring the ?threats? from its allies, the Congress-led government on June 5 gave a second anniversary bonanza to the ?aam aadmi? (common man) effecting a steep increase of Rs four per litre in the price of petrol and Rs two in case of diesel. While the reactions of the Opposition parties and the Left hypocrites were on expected lines, the ruling Congress itself came out openly demanding a rollback.
?The Congress opposes the hike in petroleum prices and wants the excessive increase to be reduced in the interests of the common man,? said party spokesman Rajiv Shukla.
Terming as ?inconceivable? the move to hike the fuel prices for the seventh time in two years, the CPI(M) Politburo said the hike would impose an unbearable burden on the people who were already reeling under spiralling prices of all essential commodities.
Joining the chorus, CPI too opposed the hike saying it would have a cascading effect on inflation.
But as is her wont, the mother of all sacrifices Sonia Gandhi made a dramatic entry into it summoning the Petroleum Minister to her residence to explain the hike, triggering speculation that there could be a roll-back with ?Madam? not taking it lightly.
However, following a meeting the Petroleum Minister and his Secretary had with the Prime Minister, it was announced that the prices will not be rolled back.
Only time will tell whether the Congress reaction reflected the growing chasm between the Prime Minister and the Congress President or whether it was an orchestrated campaign to occupy the Opposition space and divert public attention from the issue of rising prices.
With Manmohan Singh widely being perceived as a dummy of the Super Prime Minister, some circles also saw the move as a childish attempt to project that he calls the shots and can even ignore the Madam'sdesire.
In any case, it showed party-government relations in a poor light.
The Left'sloud hullabaloo over the fuel price hike could also be part of a tacit understanding but it did deliver yet another body blow to their so-called credibility and pro-poor image. Green flag inside and Red flag outside was the common refrain among the people on the streets to the Leftists? call for country-wide agitation.
In another significant development, Congress? dream to taste power in Tamil Nadu after three decades turned sour when state Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi on his maiden visit to the national capital reminded the party of the understanding that DMK will extend support to its government in Pondicherry and vice-versa in Tamil Nadu.
The visit also marked the formal exit of the Vaiko-led MDMK from the UPA.
The sharp differences within the UPA came into the open yet again with the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party backing industrialist Rahul Bajaj, fielded by the opposition BJP-Shiv Sena combine for the Rajya Sabha seat from Maharashtra which had fallen vacant following the death of BJP General Secretary Pramod Mahajan.
Unnerved by its partner in Maharashtra and the Centre ditching it in favour of the saffron combine, the Congress nominated state leader Avinash Pande as its candidate to take on Bajaj in a contest heavily tilted against the Congress. As talks to persuade Pawar to reconsider the decision came to a naught.
AICC General Secretary Margaret Alva accused him of going back on his word of support to the Congress in the bye-elections. But she should have realised that Pawar is not na?ve enough to forget the defeat of one of the four candidates in the just-concluded state Legislative Council elections.
The incident should not be seen as isolated and could even turn out to be a precursor to a future political re-alignment in the state. It was for the second time in recent years that the NCP and the Opposition BJP-Shiv Sena combine came together in a Rajya Sabha bye-elections against the Congress.
Four years back, the three parties had fielded the former Maharashtra Governor P.C. Alexander as an independent candidate.
The NCP decision caused strains not only in its relations with the Congress but also with other UPA partners.
?The formation of the UPA was to keep the RSS-BJP out of power. It was this reason that brought disparate (desperate!) political parties together. NCP joining hands with the Shiv Sena-BJP has sent a wrong message. It is against the spirit of the Constitution,? declared the alliance'scourt jester and RJD Chief Lalu Prasad.
The NCP'sdecision raised questions on UPA'scredibility itself, he said.
The Maharashtra unit of the CPI (M) too was quick to slam the NCP decision as an ?opportunistic alliance.? ?Our party is opposed to this kind of opportunism,? said party'sstate Secretary Ashok Dhawale.
Finance Minister P. Chidambaram'sfresh Tughluqian idea of a new tax return form for the salaried class to replace the ?Naya Saral? introduced by the previous NDA government also came under attack from all quarters forcing the government to make it optional. The atrocious form, if implemented, would have forced the ordinary tax-payer to hire a chartered accountant to keep a tab on his daily expenses.
But then the country'sself-proclaimed Best Finance Minister had earlier come out with ridiculous proposals like the tax on cash withdrawals from savings bank accounts, moves that were totally against the common man whose cause the party claims to espouse.
Earlier, the issue of granting reservations to the OBCs in higher educational institutions saw the sharp differences and contradictions within the government and the ruling Congress.
The move, widely seen as an attempt at one-upmanship by Arjun Singh to embarrass his arch-rival Manmohan Singh, witnessed Kapil Sibal engaging in a war of words with the HRD Minister. The Knowledge Commission set up by the government and led by Sam Pitroda also crossed swords with Arjun Singh with one of its members even resigning in protest.
The glue of anti-BJPism is keeping the fragile coalition together but how long a hollow and specious issue like secularism can keep together an opportunistic rag-tag alliance remains to be seen.