ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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End of a Notion

 THE more protracted and bitter it gets, the more the A real character of the tussle between Bihar chief minister Laloo Prasad Yadav and sections of the ruling United Front at the centre as a power-political struggle corner to the fore. For Laloo Yadav, of course, the fight to cave himself from prosecution and punishment for his alleged part in the fodder scam is indistinguishable from that to preserve his formidable political base among the backward castes in the north. On the other side, if his enemies' strenuous efforts to force him to quit the chief ministership have any effect on the incidence of political corruption in the country, that will be largely incidental; for the most part they have to do with furthering the political fortunes and calculations of different individuals, factions and parties. Hence the seamless transition from the demand for Laloo Yadav's resignation to the insistence understandable perhaps for the aggrieved faction of the Janata Dal but in the case of the left parties one more reminder of the kind of politics they have been embroiled in that the breakaway Rashtriya Janata Dal must be kepi out of the United Front and the ministers in the central government who have opted to join it rather than stay with what is left of the Janata Dal must be dismissed. With such politicking hogging the spotlight, the real tasks of systematically unravelling the stupendous fraud in the Animal Husbandry Department of the Bihar government, bringing to book the very large number of culprits, both politicians and officials, and, not least, devising comprehensive remedial measures to ensure that large public funds are not siphoned away with such uttee ease have all receded into the background. In an article published elsewhere in this issue ('Lessons from Bihar Scam', p 1686), a contributor warns us that the Bihar fraud is a symptom of deep and chropic problems afflicting the entire system of government finances and accounts not just in Bihar but in other states as well. According to him, "[b]asic financial control has collapsed, audit and accounts are in wild disorder and the constitutional arrangements for legislative control over government finances have completely broken down". It is no surprise that already there is a whiff of another state finances scandal, from West Bengal this time. But such are not the concerns that move the UF's political gladiators in New Delhi and Patna, The problem with politics of this kind is that it can go only so far and only for so long. The UF, it is evident, is rapidly approaching the end of its tether. And unlike the last time, when the withdrawal of Congress support led to the replacement of Deve Gowda as prime minister, this time it is narrow faction and group politics within the UF which is transporting it to its doom. But far more than the fate of the particular dispensation currently in office in the nation's capital, what is of long-term significance is that the narrowness of vision of the leading lights of the UF has stripped the notion of a political arrangement capable of providing the country with a non-BJP, non-Congress government of all credibility. Racked by factional dissensions, as the UF government headed by Inder Gujral passes increasingly under Congress control, the question what particular purpose is served by its continuance in office, even were it possible to ensure that, can no longer be evaded. Intimations of mortality have evidently dawned upon some of the constituents of the UF who, with typical opportunism, are now making a virtue of necessity and beginning to talk of preparing for a fresh election. But after the mess that those in charge of it have made of the UF, a new election is very unlikely to advance the cause of any kind of a credible alternative to the Congress and the BJP. The Janata Dal, the moving force in the formation of the UF after the last election, is split down the middle and in a shambles. How the electoral gains from this in the northern states will be shared between the BJP and the Congress may be yet to be settled, but there is nothing unclear about what is in store for the so-called third force. In fact the hand on the lever to decide the timing of the next election is very much that of the Congress president, Sitaram Kesri, and if the UF government is allowed to continue in office a little longer that will only be because the political strategists of the Congress deem it to be to their advantage to do so and gain more time before the election.

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