It has been over two thousand years since Aesop recorded the tale of the wolf in sheep's clothing. Leave it to the UPA to present us with the spectacle of lambs in wolves' skins!
I refer to those two misfits in the Congress, Dr Manmohan Singh and A K Antony. Their image rests on their record of probity in public life. They risk that reputation being shredded beyond repair if they try to hunt with the wolves, trying to be 'clever' as well as "good."
The prime minister cited the threat of large-scale defections as reason enough to dissolve the Bihar Vidhan Sabha. I agree that several MLAs were preparing to jump the fence, it is the timing of the announcement which leaves a stench.
The shape of the newly-elected Bihar Vidhan Sabha was known in the first days of March. No ministry could have been formed unless there were mass defections. Did it take two-and-a-half months for our economist prime minister to grasp the logic of the numbers?
The manner of the announcement was so weird that it provokes more questions. The President was in Moscow on a state visit to Russia. The prime minister was scheduled to visit Ranthambore on Monday, May 23. Yet late on Sunday evening -- close to midnight in fact -- the Union Cabinet advised the President to dissolve the Vidhan Sabha.
The matter was so urgent that the necessary papers were faxed to the President. Yet the issue was so unimportant that Dr Manmohan Singh then left for Ranthambore to discuss the mystery of the missing tigers! How on earth can you reconcile the two facts?
It can be explained away only through the fear that Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party -- elected to a man on the anti-Lalu Prasad Yadav platform -- wanted to join hands with the BJP and Nitish Kumar. This was completely unpalatable to the railway minister. He called on the Left Front, which delivered an ultimatum: If the Congress allowed 'communal forces' to come to power in Patna the Marxists would withdraw support in Delhi. Given that Nitish Kumar was within hours of becoming chief minister, this left the Congress with no option but a midnight dissolution. Does anyone have a better explanation for the frenzy on a Sunday night?
The prime minister would have been applauded had he taken the decision to dissolve the Vidhan Sabha in March. (Harkishen Singh Surjeet had suggested just that.) By postponing it for two-and-a-half months, Dr Manmohan Singh leaves himself open to the charge that he dances to Lalu Prasad Yadav's piping.
The prime minister is now bending over so far backward for his railway minister that he isn't even talking of a snap poll. Instead, the Congress is trotting out excuses for postponing elections -- school examinations, the heat of summer, the monsoons! In other words, the UPA wants to give Lalu Prasad Yadav as much time as possible to put his own men in place. Is it just coincidence that two 'unhelpful' district magistrates were abruptly transferred? (One of them had even had the temerity to raid the house of the RJD boss's friend, Shahbuddin!)
Will the Congress follow the principles it has invoked in Bihar in other states? Goa to be specific, where too there is no scope for a popular government without defections. The Goa assembly too is in a state of suspended animation. Why shouldn't it be dissolved outright and fresh elections announced?
Moving southward yet, I am completely unable to understand why A K Antony also seems bent on ruining his image. The former chief minister has been given the Rajya Sabha seat that was vacated by a contemptuous Karunakaran. Yet Antony is currently an MLA in the Kerala assembly. He cannot hold both seats, one in the assembly, the other in the Rajya Sabha. But if he vacates Cherthala there is a danger that the Left Democratic Front will win the seat -- a slap in the face for the Congress.
Antony is being persuaded to sneak through a loophole. The law gives him a fortnight to choose between Delhi and Thiruvananthapuram. Another law says that a by-election need not be held if the assembly elections themselves are to be held in a year or less.
The last possible date to hold the Kerala assembly election is June 6, 2006. Antony does not have to declare his intentions about the Rajya Sabha seat until June 10, 2005. If he remains mum about the Rajya Sabha seat until the last day, there is no legal obligation to hold a by-election in Cherthala. But the Election Commission will start the machinery for a by-election if Antony resigns from the assembly before June 6.
There are two aspects to this. First, it would be painful to see an old friend forced to act like a shyster lawyer. Second, and more important, it condemns the 141,138 voters of Cherthala to being unrepresented for virtually a full year.
The essence of democracy is that power is vested in the people and exercised through their representatives. What is happening in Bihar and Goa -- and what may still take place in Cherthala -- is obscene.
Isn't it a shame that membership in the Congress leads two decent men to violate not just the spirit of the Constitution but also their own conscience?
Call for elections in Bihar, Goa, and Cherthala, Dr Singh and Mr Antony -- and do it now!