The Congress party has been a victim of two viciously crafted political fads. The first is the BJP’s ‘remote-controlled’ PM. Initially, the Left had been the spoilers of the India Story. Then it was Mamata Banerjee. Now, the reform camp is increasingly emboldened to make the ‘Sonia Establishment’ the latest scapegoat for its own failures. And that is the other fad.
The new insinuations have come as a double blow to the Congress, which is already defending UPA-II’s many other misdemeanours, like the corruption scandals and unchecked price surges. There is also great consternation over the way alibis for the economic failures are being put at the party’s door by those considered close to the government. Signals from the ground are frightening for the ruling party. Last time, it had the Sonia Gandhi’s employment programme and debt relief to show off as achievements. Now, party workers in the constituencies are left with no showpiece except the rather unpopular direct benefits transfer (DBT) to place before the voters. Sonia Gandhi’s aam aadmi programmes—such as the public services delivery bill, RTE and food security scheme—are stuck at different stages.
For Congress leaders, insinuations by some of the prime minister’s former aides that they were ‘obstructing’ reform have only added insult to the injury. A party functionary, who has been at the centre of decision-making, was at pains to explain how the Congress establishment had in fact at every stage endeavoured to function as a facilitator of the prime minister’s initiatives. The party had acted so even at the cost of its electoral interests, knowing well that some of these measures would hurt popular sentiments.
For the Congress, last September was a crucial moment when it formally gave the prime minister a free hand with his reform initiatives. To formalise it, the party even held a brainstorming session at Surajkund near Delhi. Public rallies were held in support of his moves, especially FDI in retail. The party also didn’t object when raising the FDI cap was discussed as a remedy to the present crisis. Indeed, reform measures got stuck due to the failure of the UPA managers to get parliamentary support.
The Surajkund decision, it is now pointed out, has been a major deal-breaker. As a result of it, the Congress as a political party has totally lost its electoral edge. The party now finds itself devoid of its carefully cultivated aam aadmi-driven Brand Sonia which had earlier come in handy at poll rallies. Now it is destined to perpetually depend on the government’s performance. Party sources say that, from the very beginning, in 2004, the Congress president has, in a bid to avert the ‘remote control’ charge, tried meticulously to strengthen Manmohan Singh’s position. When ministers came with complaints, Sonia Gandhi had bluntly told them to settle the issue with the prime minister. This had happened even in the case of senior leaders like Arjun Singh.
This was a time when UPA-I had three conflicting agendas—the Congress election manifesto, UPA’s officially adopted common minimum programme and the prime minister’s reforms agenda. The Congress president’s role was balancing the contradictory pulls from the Left and the reforms camp. Looking back, the Congress establishment could have stood its ground on the nuclear deal in 2008 and retail FDI, the junctures when the clash of two agendas had come into sharp contrast.
The farthest the Congress president had gone, it is pointed out, was when she formed the National Advisory Council (NAC). This was to serve the interests of those left out in the GDP-led reforms race. But each of the NAC’s initiatives was dubbed as populist and a burden on the exchequer. There is utter dismay in the party over the total helplessness of the leaders of government in tackling the crisis they themselves have created. There is no dearth of economic brains in the government. Yet it is confined to fighting symptoms like the rupee’s fall without tackling the deeper malaises. Can we make up for the $90 billion CAD by fresh FDI or sending two senior ministers to the US seeking investment?
Incidentally, all this has strengthened the elements within the Congress who have been critical of what they describe as the government’s single-minded pursuit of a fixed agenda. But they can do little, with the general elections hardly eight months away. An obvious outcome of the Congressmen’s disillusionment will be reflected in the next Lok Sabha. The party will then be free for a serious introspection, whether in power or out of it. This is going to be a nightmare for the committed reformers.
(P. Raman is former political editor of The Economic Times and Business Standard)
Apropos P. Raman’s column Falling with the Rupee, looks like the Queen is now finally ready to give up the pawn.
Manmohan Singh must have realised by now the extent to which he was “supremely sacrificed” in 2004.
K. Suresh, Bangalore
I wouldn’t say UPA-II is falling with the rupee. Fact is, they have taken some bold steps for the aam aadmi with RTE, forest rights, FDI and the land and food bills. The climate of the day is such that everyone is eager to see their downfall. They are still the lesser evil.
Xavier Albuquerque, Panjim
I would hardly say that UPA II is falling with the rupee. The UPA II has been bold and couragous enough to take the steps for aam admi with RTE FDI and Food bill. It has been a political outlook that places the UPA II in the downfall. Common man has his reasons to still stick with UPA rather than opting for the others, " Choosing the lesser evil" as they may say.
The excercise has been started in separating MMS from his string puller. And guess what? I have a strong suspecion that MMS being so loyal, he himself might have suggested to Sonia's chamchas to spare Sonia from this current financial disaster. Then again what earth shattering financial planning can you expect from a waitress?
I misspelt a word in 24/D-73, the mis-spelling was 'amm', the word that was meant to be spelled is, 'aam'
The dichotomy that has to be addressed to the mind is, that the Ministers occupy buildings, that are centrally airconditioned, and this isn't a drain on the energy reserves of the nation. The ministers are in an unenviable position, whereby they are first among the amm aadmi, or the most aam, the rich among the aam aadmi, aren't supposed to be aam, and they are giving people some sound advice, about energy, it's conservation, etc.. How does the mantri, and Ms. Naina Lal Kidwai explain, that it is policy, their residences are centrally airconditioned? What was another person to do, in Ms. Naina Lal Kidwai's place? People aspire to be her, so that their houses are centrally airconditioned. There are people like her, in India, and their number grows. What exactly is the issue? It might appear, that in the U. S., everyone has a degree of what people aspire to. and that is why, there are no debates in the public sphere, on issues such as these.
22 D Arjun
The year on year inflation is running at around 9%, and so the hike of 11% is a miniscule increase of 2% for the government staff.
A person so concerned about government expenditure should surely be asking why the government is wasting the THIRD largest chunk of its budget, after the MINISTRY OF FINANCE and MINISTRY OF DEFENSE, nothing less, on 'Gender Budget'
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