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Saturday, May 11, 2002

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A change in complexion

Ranabir Ray Choudhury

THE election of Mr Manohar Joshi, the Shiv Sena leader, as the new Lok Sabha Speaker was never in doubt, especially in view of the now-indelible fact that the NDA is full of people and parties who will sacrifice any and everything in return for a share of political power at the Centre. Perhaps this explains, as nothing else does, the eating of humble pie by Mr Chandrababu Naidu's TDP in having to sign the nomination papers of the Shiv Sena candidate for the post of Speaker, particularly in the wake of the party's refusal to nominate a replacement from among its ranks for the late G. M. C. Balayogi on the ground that the TDP was not happy with Mr Vajpayee's policy of retaining Narendra Modi as Chief Minister of Gujarat after the communal conflagration in his State.

Of course, the point will be made by Mr Naidu that the two issues — nomination and election of a Shiv Sena candidate as Lok Sabha Speaker and the TDP's stand on Gujarat — are exclusive to each other and that, consequently, support of Mr Manohar Joshi cannot be construed in any way as diluting the TDP's stand on Gujarat. But the TDP's stand on the twin issues smacks of political manoeuvring, which has everything to do with the party's prospects in a fresh Lok Sabha poll (which are not too good at the moment) and nothing at all with political principles (which today is a scarce commodity with Indian parties across the political spectrum).

The inference, of course, is that, as this is a case of political manoeuvring, the TDP will continue with its policy of extracting as much as possible for Andhra Pradesh from Mr Vajpayee, its awareness in this sphere being greatly heightened by the fact that it no longer wields the clout of having provided the Lower House Speaker.

In a way, this could render the political stability of the Vajpayee Government even more suspect, assuming that the TDP would exert greater pressure now on the Vajpayee Government to extract its "pound of flesh". At the same time, there is the equal possibility of the Prime Minister bending over backwards to appease Mr Naidu in view of the TDP's declared stand that it will support the NDA Government only when it does something "good".

The upshot of all the changes effected in the political kaleidoscope at the Centre ever since the tragic death of Mr Balayogi and the Gujarat happenings is that, geographically speaking, the focus of political attention will now shift to Mumbai from Hyderabad. But even more important for Mr Vajpayee is that the election of Mr Joshi as Speaker will substantively strengthen the hands of those within the Sangh Parivar who refuse to see in the Prime Minister a primus inter pares.

One wonders to what extent Mr Vajpayee (whose only source of political strength now, ironically, is the growing clout of the Opposition) was actually associated with the decision to nominate the Shiv Sena MP for the Speaker's post. Or could it just be that the decision was the result of the strenuous effort of a particular, hyper-resourceful Union Minister who has his eyes set on the Maharashtra gaddi, which he feels he can usurp at some future date with the help of the Shiv Sena?

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