It is a poetic justice of sorts. The chief architect of liberalisation and the man who brought about such a far-reaching change of course in the Indian economy and who held the Congress party in his vice-like grip for so long despite daunting challenges and defeats had ultimately to make an honoured exit from the office of Congress presidentship as Shree 420. Liberalisation too, it seems, devours its old men. But it would be too premature to assume that the curtains are finally down on Rao. He still retains the crucial post of parliamentary party leadership. He may be down but not out yet.
Mr.Sitaram Kesari, a quintessentially traditional old Congressman and a trusted lieutenant of Rao, hailing from the crucial Hindi belt and having the advantage of being a backward caste leader has taken over as the interim president. In fact, his choice fits in well with the earlier tilt in Congress politics initiated by Rao himself through the tie-up with Kanshi Ram and overtures to Laloo etc. Kesari at the Congress helm removes the stumbling block in winning the Muslims back to the Congress fold. It remains to be seen whether he will continue to remain a Rao protege or step out of his mentor's shadow. His presidentship may open up the doors of the party for the return of many old Congressmen.
If one were to go by the opinion polls on UP elections, the Congress(I)-BSP combine is in for some handsome gains and may well end up occupying the second slot. All these are pointers to the fact that Congress may well be on the comeback trail. On the other hand, if the predictions of a hung assembly in UP comes true and BJP fails to obtain a majority, then the party, already smarting under the Gujarat debacle, may well be on a lean trot for a longer time. In sum, all these developments mark the beginning of a new phase of uncertainty.
The key element in this uncertainty is the inevitable realignment of forces between Congress and UF. It would be unrealistic to expect that the present arrangement of a UF govt. supported by Congress from outside would go on forever. The participation of Congress in the govt. would no longer remain the marginal voice of minority Congress dissidents. Return of the old Congressmen, including Tamil Maanila Congress, to the parent organisation would force the pace of events. But participation in a UF government by Congress, with its larger number of MPs, is not easily settled without first deciding the questions of overall complexion of the government and leadership, including prime ministership, what with Rao himself occupying CPP leadership. It may well turn out to be case of Congress polarising a section of UF itself. Anyway, all these remain still in the realm of uncertainty and it would not be wise to hazard a definite guess in which way things would move.
Only one thing seems clear. Following the outcome of the crucial UP polls, the old arrangement would no longer continue in the same manner. Hence it is hightime for the Left, the CPI-CPI(M), presently engaged in an opportunist but troubled partnership with the government, to rework their priorities.