It is bad enough for the Congress that it suffered a humiliating defeat in the recent elections to the four state assemblies. But worse is still to follow. Realising that the dynastical charisma of the mother-son duo was losing its electoral sheen, the Congress men and the allies are up in arms against the high command at least in the three major states—Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Kerala—where the aging party is still in power.
The beleaguered Congressmen have reacted to the crushing debacle in two ways. Some are just too stunned to say anything and are quietly looking for other options to secure their uncertain political future. For most of them ideology and commitment to the party programmes are a matter of connivance. And there are others who have decided to take the bull by the horns, challenge the high command and stage an open revolt.
In an unprecedented move, six Lok Sabha members belonging to the Congress have brought a no-confidence motion against their own government! In their letter to the Speaker, the Congress MPs have sought permission to move a motion expressing no confidence in the Union council of Ministers under Rule 198 of the Rules of Procedures and Conduct of Business in the Lok Sabha.
A senior party leader and a former minister J C Diwakar Reddy has declared the Congress “dead” in Andhra Pradesh and demanded that Sonia Gandhi step down from the party leadership. The irrepressible Mani Shankar Aiyer has predicted a defeat for Congress in the 2014 general elections. And there was also a barely veiled attack on the helmsmen of the party by an important ally, Sharad Pawar.
In Kerala, Congress heads a coalition, United Democratic Front (UDF). The chief minister has been under fire from coalition partners for its inept handling of issues such as the solar scam. And with the Congress getting decimated in the recent Assembly elections, the coalition partners have got fresh ammunition to attack the party.
The Assembly election results are “an eye-opener” for everyone, said Kerala Congress (M) leader K M Mani, who is also the state’s finance minister. “It is important to take the people into confidence and correct the mistakes,” he added. E T Mohammed Basheer of the Indian Union Muslim League also asked the Congress to learn from its mistakes and take corrective steps.
In fact there are too many bush fires of revolt smouldering all around, ready to engulf both the party and the leadership, and reduce it to a shambles in the near future. And what is the response of the high command to this crisis?
The high command (read Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul, who doubles up as her deputy, the party vice-president) for a change climbed down from its high pedestal in the wake of the collapse and talked to the media for a few minutes. Those who heard them were left wondering who runs the Congress. For the duo cleverly distanced itself from all that is rotten in the party and promised quick remedial measures.
Pray, who has been controlling the party since the unceremonious sacking of the party president, the family retainer Sitaram Kesri in May 1999? And who has been running the government since the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was ousted in the 2004 general elections? No doubt Manmohan Singh holds the office of the prime minister. But sans any real power.
Sonia Gandhi, her son and the ragtag group called the National Advisory Council (NAC) have been setting the agenda for the government, and which it had followed faithfully. In short, the Union cabinet’s job was merely to tax people, collect money and spend it as per the dictates of the NAC and the little cabal that enjoyed the confidence of the high command. Those answerable to the parliament had little or no control on how the tax payers’ money was spent.
One disastrous fall out of this queer arrangement of power and office sharing was that the ministers were not answerable either to the prime minister or the parliament. They were safely ensconced in their offices till they kept the high command and the cabal satisfied and in loop.
The PM, the kingpin of our parliamentary system, just did not matter. He could not sack, appoint or promote anyone. So you had a weird situation. There was no organically integrated government, but each of the ministers was the government. The result was the ministers not only did not work in co-ordination with each other but many a times at cross purposes. So you had a government at war with itself most of the times. The end result of this distortion was evaporation of governance and policy paralysis.
What the power minister proposed or cleared in the power sector was effectively blocked by the environment minister. The home ministry’s efforts to fight terrorism were brought to nought by the likes of Digvijaya Singh, an important member of the Gandhi family cabal often seen standing by those accused of terror, much to the dismay of security agencies. Such examples are galore in the last 10 years of UPA rule. What the current Assembly results have shown is the irrelevance of the Sonia Gandhi-led economic package of job, food and attendant entitlement. The rejection of the development model of the Congress in Delhi and Rajasthan contrasts with the thumbs up people gave to the governance model in MP and Chhattisgarh.
All that the Congress (and other so-called “secularists”) had been saying about the BJP vs others will be communalism versus secularism has also been rejected by the four states.
In the wake of the verdict, the UPA government would get little support for its so-called big ticket reforms it is assuring the market every day. Even the so-called supporters from outside like BSP and SP will have second thoughts now. The other constituents of the UPA will begin to reassess their advantage for 2014 and find continuance in the government a liability electorally.
Reading the writing on the wall, foreign governments would defer their responses to New Delhi. In effect if it decides to continue till May, the prime minister will be proverbial albatross around the nation’s neck.