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Rebellious 'atoot angs'

Mumbai (2012-03-19): Folklore has it that the term 'atoot ang' or unbreakable limb was first used by Atal Behari Vajpayee to describe Kashmir's status in the Indian union. In a political coalition the atoot angs are the political parties, which keep it in office. While an atoot ang is treated with respect for the value it brings to the main body, the problem arises when these 'angs' turn rebellious.

The Trinamool Congress, with 25 MPs in Parliament (19 in Lok Sabha) and seven ministers, is one such atoot ang of the government. Whether the Teesta accord with Bangladesh, the rail budget presented by its own minister, the doomed anti terror mechanism: NCTC of the Ministry of Home Affairs, FDI in multi-brand retail, petrol price hike; this atoot ang is on its own beat.

TMC chief Mamata does not hesitate to embarrass the Prime Minister at national and international fora with her rigid and temperamental behaviour simply because she knows that if the Prime Minister can confidently tell the media "we have the numbers", it is because of the numbers she brings to the table.

Another atoot ang of the UPA-II is the DMK. From 2G and Raja to the latest one on backing the UN resolution on Sri Lanka, the DMK has been an albatross to the Congress-led coalition. The DMK has put the UPA on notice to back a US-initiated resolution at the UNHRC against Sri Lanka's human rights abuses during the 'Eelam War'.

The vote comes up on March 23 and it now remains to be seen if India will vote either way or simply abstain.

In the second half of the second term, the UPA-II seems to have developed an ailment called autoimmune disorder. Normally the body's immune system protects it from harmful substances but in an autoimmune disease, the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys healthy body tissues.

The ailing body politic has put the country in a policy paralytic mode. Historically, the Congress has never really been comfortable with the coalition mode of running a government. It has left that to the Opposition, whether it be the Janata Party experiment during 1977-80, the Janata Dal in 1989-91, or the NDA in 1998-2004. During the rest of the years from independence onwards, the Congress has always been in power without having to bend to a coalition partner's diktat. Narasimha Rao did run a minority government but did not bother to take in a coalition member to keep the party in office, using, instead, other mechanisms.

However the long period of being out of office during the NDA-led rule brought about the realisation in the Congress that regional parties are here to stay and the electorate does not have confidence in any one political party. The UPA-I ran on life support almost every single day with the left parties tearing at the fabric every step of the way.

UPA-II should have been a cakewalk for Manmohan Singh but executive inertia seems to have set in with "coalition compulsions" being the excuse. The Economic Survey has noted that inflation and fiscal slippages were among the main challenges before the economy. The wet blanket to the India story is the plethora of corruption scandals. The UPA-II is now caught in the web of its own creation, unable to check either corruption or its own arrogance.

If it wants the Samajwadi Party, the AIADMK or Left parties to slip in to the vacant spots that could be created as a result of exits by the TMC and DMK then it will have to get off its high horse. The recently held elections have shown that its arrogance is ill-perceived, even by the electorate.

Running a coalition is all about management of disparate elements. It requires skill, humility and dexterity in equal measure. The NDA ran a successful coalition thanks to the statesman-like presence of Vajpayee. The UPA-I completed its term due to the ambidexterity of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh. The chatter in the UPA-II is that it will pull through the next two years because none of the atoot angs wants an election. But, what about governance?

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I am the Editor News, at Asian News International (ANI), Indias leading Multimedia News Agency and the India Correspondent for Channel News Asia, a Singapore based broadcaster.
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