Mayawati, leader of the low-castes, proves key for govt
The pivotal role played by Mayawati, a self-proclaimed leader of the
in parliament highlighted the importance of smaller parties and a
rough road ahead for reforms.
Last-moment support from Mayawati, chief of the Bahujan Samaj Party
that champions lower castes, helped the ruling coalition trounce by a
wide margin an opposition sponsored vote of confidence on Tuesday over
a hike in fuel and fertiliser prices.
But the fickleness of the allies who supported Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh's government underscores the difficulties he and his reformist
aides would face in their efforts to further open up the economy and
cut down subsidies.
Bills include those to allow more foreign stakes in pension and
insurance sectors, and to permit foreign universities to set up local
campuses, are all on hold due to political opposition.
"When it comes for foreign investment or opening up products to market
forces, like in the case of petroleum, reforms become a major issue.
They can't go to the (smaller parties) for support," D.H. Pai
Panandikar, head of think-tank RPG Foundation, said.
While few expected the government to lose the vote over high
inflation, disputes over a women's bill and a cricket scandal had seen
many allies of the coalition either withdraw their support or waver in
Enter Mayawati, who goes by one name and who was touted as a possible
prime minister before she performed worst than expected in last year's
This year, her million-dollar spending on statues of herself and parks
in Uttar Pradesh, one of India's poorest states, has raised a storm of
criticism. But despite this, her 21 lawmakers proved crucial in giving
Congress a stable majority.
Congress has 207 members in the 545-member lower house of parliament.
On Tuesday, the government had the support of 289 members, just 16
over the half-way mark, a pointer on how close a vote can go if the
opposition effectively unites.
While Mayawati charged Singh's government of policies that caused
hardships to people, she appeared keener this time to court government
favour and deflect criticism as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh state.
"While we should have normally voted against the government, we do not
want communal forces to return to power in the garb of these issues,"
the former school teacher told a news conference.
Singh's government was also brought home safely by a thinning of the
anti-government alliance, when the 27 members of the Samajwadi Party
(SP) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) walked out on the vote, just
weeks after they had demanding it.
Like Mayawati, they blamed the Congress for high inflation and other
woes, but cited as reason for their shift a reluctance to vote
alongside 'communal forces,' shorthand for main Hindu-nationalist
opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
MAYAWATI, OTHERS, SEEN FICKLE
The 54-year old Mayawati is no friend of the Congress. Both parties
are locked in a bitter struggle to control Uttar Pradesh, the state
which sends the most number of lawmakers to parliament.
The party, which has tried to spread its wings beyond Uttar Pradesh
with limited success, has earlier aligned with both the Congress and
the BJP, guided by its founding agenda of being in power and using the
government to benefit its lower caste voters.
"She has saved the government, but where do we go from here? In the
future she will not maintain this position," said Sudha Pai, a
professor at Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University and an author of a
book on the party.
Pai said Mayawati's decision came on expectation the Congress would
pipe down its criticism of issues like using government funds to build
colossal states of herself.
Analysts say the Congress looked set to rule till its five-year term
ends 2014, but would have to wheel out its dealmakers each time
crucial legislation is up for approval, further complicating the rocky
road to freeing up the economy.
"I think it is a somewhat stable equilibrium,
economist at HDFC bank, said. "There is a symbiotic relationship
between the Congress and the smaller parties."
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