The Congress party has not looked so good in years. As the anniversary of 26/11 draws close and the year 2009 comes to an end, it has clearly been a phenomenal year for India's grand old party. The principal opposition, the BJP, looks more miserable by the month, the Left is equally tied up in problems. The Congress, in comparison, looks the picture of radiant health. But even more than the misfortune of its opponents, the Congress must also get credit for acquiring mastery over the politics of dualism. This is the art of being all things to all men. Of carrying contradictions and harmonising them in a unified political message.
A party or a leader with a brittle image, approach, or message can no longer rule a country as complex and diverse as India. The politics of dualism is a fine craft. Atal Bihari Vajpayee practiced it with some finesse. With Brahminical dexterity, and a deliberate ambiguity, he pulled off a trapeze act between the Sangh Parivar hawks and the NDA allies, the ambitions of L.K. Advani and the pulls of a rainbow coalition. He ruled for six years and led the first non- Congress government that completed a term in office. Without him at the helm, it seems inconceivable that the BJP or NDA will ever reclaim those glory days.
For years, a tentative Rahul Gandhi was pilloried in the media as an inept dynast imposed on the nation by a doting mamma. The young man could do nothing right. The same Congress hacks who now sing paeans of Rahul, had then mocked and derided his every effort. But nothing succeeds like success in politics and today, it would seem, Rahul can do no wrong. He is credited with all the good fortune that has come the party's way and is never held responsible for any mistake.
In fact, over the past year, the Congress appears to be practicing the politics of dualism with some aplomb. It has positioned itself as a government of the aam aadmi even as it begins a crackdown on Maoists and promotes policies that cut back on investments in the social sector. Is it by design or default that Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi never speak the language of war and retribution? It is left to home minister P. Chidambaram to become the visible face of the War against Maoists. Is it by design or default that Rahul Gandhi speaks compassionately about addressing the root causes of people's problems -- visits Dalit homes, his heart bleeds for tribals -- while Chidambaram speaks of Maoists being the biggest threat to India's peace and prosperity?
Even more audacious is the manner in which the Congress presents itself as a pro-poor party and showcases schemes like NREGA as its biggest accomplishments. Meanwhile, corporatisation and privatisation of the social sector is also underway. Manmohan Singh and Montek Singh Ahluwalia become the face of liberal right wing economic policies. The Gandhis never engage in such complex mathematical issues and have now cast themselves as leaders of the aam aadmi. Sonia and Rahul Gndhi are the humane face of the party. All the tough, unsavoury policies are pursued by others.
It does appear to be a nuanced position. Is it all a coincidence or part of a carefully crafted script?
There is a big difference between the politics of dualism and the politics of deceit. The relationship between Mulayam Singh Yadav and Kalyan Singh in Uttar Pradesh embodies the politics of deceit. Occasionally the two men (who most famously locked horns over the Babri demolition) join hands in blatantly opportunistic political manoeuvres. And whenever they feel they are being short-changed in their unholy matrimony, they part ways.
If the Kalyan-Mulayam pair did not cut such sorry figures, one would be tempted to compare their on-again off again political dalliance with the multiple marriages/divorces of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. But it's probably a ridiculous to compare the relationship of an unsavoury political pair with the glorious though unstable romance between two beautiful people.
There's nothing glorious about politics of the type Mulayam-Kalyan practice. This week they again parted ways after Mulayam's Samajwadi Party received a drubbing in the assembly by-elections. He has blamed the deserting Muslim ranks on the tie-up with Kalyan. Again booted out by "Maulana" Mulayam, Kalyan has declared his commitment to Ram Lalla and building a temple at Ayodhya. The fairly obvious political interpretation is that he's again making coy eyes at the BJP which has nothing to lose in Uttar Pradesh.
If it were not so pathetic and sad, the Kalyan-Mulayam split would be funny. The two clearly deserve each other and are fooling no one.