Woes Without End...
- Corruption charges—from CBI, CAG, the media—dog the UPA
- Scams like 2G, CWG and K-G Basin have corroded its credibility
- Three Union ministers, Raja, Maran and Deora, have resigned
- Investors shying away because of paralysis in government
- The Lokpal Bill and Telangana issues have been handled badly
- Allies like DMK and NCP are feeling uncomfortable with the anti-corruption drive
The Congress is literally on the streets. On the one hand, there’s Rahul Gandhi on foot in western UP, taking one step at a time to try and claim some ground in the nation’s largest state—which, from all accounts, promises to be an inordinately long journey. Then there’s the spectre of MLAs and MPs from Telangana resigning en masse—this in a state that elected 33 out of it 42 MPs from the Congress, the party’s biggest contingent. Worse is the picture in the public eye of UPA leaders in Tihar jail—Suresh Kalmadi, A. Raja and Kanimozhi. One joke doing the rounds in Delhi is that the next GoM the Manmohan Singh government sets up should be on jail reforms to make life more comfortable for its own members.
Revelations from the CAG, on the K-G Basin and 2G scams, continue to rattle the most powerful. On July 7, after the CBI nailed him in the 2G matter, Union textiles minister Dayanidhi Maran finally set the bluster aside and resigned. For now, DMK supremo M. Karunanidhi has backed him, blaming the media for Maran’s plight. The question of whether or not that was for form’s sake is tangential, the DMK’s alliance with the Congress was already under severe strain.
Anyway, what matters in the public eye is the possibility that yet another UPA member could be heading for jail—depending on how investigations go. Things darkened for Maran after the CBI told the Supreme Court that its findings suggest he starved cellphone service provider Aircel of licences to force it to sell out to Malaysian telecom firm Maxis. Aircel’s promoter Sivasankaran has also alleged that as part of a deal with Maran, Maxis invested Rs 599 crore in Sun Direct, run by the Maran family. Another instance of massive corruption linked to UPA-II—if it had anything of its image left to be sullied, this could take care of it.
What’s more worrying, says a Union minister, is the complete policy drift. “We are all serving time,” he says. “No one wants to do anything big.” There is the long-pending cabinet reshuffle that Manmohan has described as “a work in progress”. Well-placed sources say all the signs are that it will happen after July 9. Sonia Gandhi has had meetings with Manmohan and other senior leaders, and three Union ministers—Maran, Raja and Murli Deora—had put in their papers. But at the time of writing, it was still “a work in progress”. An even more tantalising subplot is the much talked about “war” between finance minister Pranab Minister and home minister P. Chidambaram. Off the record, Congress leaders never cease talking of this.
Meanwhile, according to top businessmen and bankers, the paralysis in government has fuelled a flight of capital. Indians are investing abroad and developing strategies to get 50 per cent of their turnover from overseas. A staggering failure for an economist-prime minister. In the middle of all this, the aam admi—of whom the Congress is the self-avowed champion—has been left to battle soaring prices, to which the latest hike in diesel prices has no doubt added. Clearly, UPA-II’s outlook seems terrible.
Even so, Congress leaders point to a silver lining. They still hope the ruling party will gather some confidence after the assembly elections next year. True, the Congress is tipped to win in Punjab and Uttarakhand, but the big test is in Uttar Pradesh, where Rahul Gandhi is concentrating all his energies. The immediate future of the party really depends on how he carries off the assembly polls. Party workers say that if Rahul were to be declared chief ministerial candidate, Mayawati would have to harness all her political skills to put up a fight. But without a state leadership of consequence, the Congress could still flounder. The happy signs—though it’s too early to count on them—are that certain communities are beginning to tilt towards the Congress and a strategy at least is in place. Plus, it cannot be forgotten that in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the Congress did unexpectedly well, getting 22 seats. Much of the credit went to Rahul.
Regional Trouble Congress MPs who have resigned for the Telangana cause
Yet, even if there were to be a revival in Uttar Pradesh, the Andhra bastion is certainly under siege. This time, Congress members have opted to take a lead role in the “resign and chalo Delhi” strategy of Telangana votaries, trying to be on the top of the game as the familiar scenario of bandh calls, rail rokos and the violence in Osmania University plays out. The absence of assembly speaker Nadendla Manohar—who is abroad (after a visit to the US, he is to attend a conference of speakers in the UK)—means the resignations are in the cold storage for now. Cutting across parties, over 100 of the 119 MLAs from Telangana have resigned, as have 15 MPs and 15 MLCs. K. Chandrasekhar Rao, the TRS chief, is believed to have plotted the mass resignations with state panchayat raj minister K. Jana Reddy. Rao, in his rabble-rousing style, says, “If the Centre does not take cognisance of the resignations of 100 MLAs for the creation of a separate state, Telangana will turn into a cauldron.”
The Congress is in a ‘damned if we do, damned if we don’t’ situation in Andhra Pradesh. The only blessing for it is that its other bugbear, Jaganmohan Reddy, who rebelled against the party and now runs the YSR Congress, is a fence-sitter on the issue (Jagan’s bases are in Rayalaseema and coastal Andhra). In Delhi, the Congress brass talk a lot of history, saying Andhra Pradesh is a state where the party has been wiped out in the past, only to be revived by Indira Gandhi. There is also the vague belief that, in the end, Jagan will come to an understanding with the Congress. Still, that does not solve the Telangana dilemma. Says Congress Rajya Sabha MP K. Keshav Rao: “As politicians, we represent the wishes of the people, not the corporate sector. We urge the high command to understand that the resignation of over 100 MLAs is not an ordinary happening. Our party president Sonia Gandhi will understand that statehood is a genuine demand.”
It is highly possible that Sonia understands all this. But right now she does not seem to know what to do about many things. Congress leaders sigh and say that this crisis is a game of smoke and mirrors. They all have a dream, a prayer—before the next Lok Sabha polls, some big-ticket legislation, like the one proposed for food security, will become a reality and everyone will turn to Sonia and Rahul to hit the campaign trail and deliver what now seems impossible.
By Saba Naqvi with Madhavi Tata in Hyderabad