Ten years is a long time in the life of a nation. More so, when the nation itself is only a little older than six and a half decades. It is long enough for voters to make considered assessments on performance, in terms of both what was promised and what was delivered.
Equally, an hour and twenty minutes of prime time television provides a reasonable basis for lasting impressions. The interviewer, at his politest best, chose to allow his guest to do the talking. It was anything but a cross examination. A benign interview, the examinee was, however, consistent. No matter what the question, he insisted on being the perennial outsider wanting to reform the system and empower women. This needs to be applauded.
Not said was why 10 years of unfettered and total influence on the government was not sufficient to get the reform required. Also not stated, how the next five years, in the unlikely event of a Congress/UPA victory, will substantially improve the prospects of reform and the empowerment of women.
Cynics might argue that rampant corruption, scams and food inflation were not the only reasons why the Congress party was routed in the elections to the four state assemblies in December 2013. It may well be that in spite of seemingly impressive performances by the central and state governments where the Congress was in power, voter disillusionment may also have something to do with fatigue and anti-incumbency.
Given the Congress party's humiliation, surely an attempt should have been made at the level of the prime minister Jan 3 and the person likely to succeed him, in the unlikely event of electoral success, the Congress vice president, Jan 28 to set the record straight.
On corruption, the prime minister said that since most of the allegations and scams pertained to the period of UPA-1, these were not an issue because the Congress/UPA was re-elected in 2009. There appears to have been a lapse both of memory and judgement. Yes, most of the scams, telecom spectrum, Commonwealth Games, coal allocations etc. took place during UPA-1. Information on them surfaced, however, in the public domain only during UPA-2.
Rahul Gandhi Jan 28 said: "My position was that I report to the prime minister. Whatever I felt I had conversations with the prime minister. Whatever I felt about the issues I made it abundantly clear to the prime minister." This is untenable. If his views had been made known and presumably he was opposed to the ongoing and widespread corruption, why was nothing done? The vice president is, he stresses, against corruption per se.
If action was not taken to take matters to their logical conclusion against past chief ministers like Ashok Chavan (of Maharashtra) and serving ones like Virbhadra Singh (of Himachal Pradesh), perhaps it is because the Congress party does not listen to him. In so far as Lalu is concerned, the pre-poll alliance will be with the party and not Lalu. Also, decision will be taken by seniors in the party. Two questions, is there an RJD without Lalu and who all are senior to the vice president within the party?
On 1984, Gandhi admitted that Congressmen were indeed involved in the genocidal killings that took the lives of several thousand Sikhs. What he did not mention and the interviewer did not point to the late Rajiv Gandhi's statement then that "When a giant tree falls, the earth below shakes".
Also not mentioned was that the rampaging mobs that indulged in the orgy of looting and violence were led by prominent Congressmen subsequently identified. No effort was made by the police to disperse those who were on a killing spree. The person who served as home minister went on to become prime minister. Cases against those prominently identified have not moved and are unlikely to move during the remainder of UPA-2. Even 30 years after the heinous crime, justice continues to evade the victims.
The comparison with Gujarat 2002 is even more galling. During the last 11 years, thousands of prosecutions have been filed and hundreds of people sentenced. A cabinet minister stands indicted on charges of murder and is currently in prison. The chief minister has had to face the most rigorous scrutiny and has been cleared at every stage, including by the Supreme Court appointed SIT. In retrospect, it is clear that the charges itself were based on fabrication of evidence and a litany of lies.
The prime minister blamed the adverse external environment for the country's economic problems post 2005. He sought comfort in food inflation resulting in better returns for producers. Even here, somehow, the picture does not add up. Consumers reel under food inflation and the producer commits suicide.
Objective assessments, it could be argued, come only with a little distance in time. There is inbuilt tolerance for some corruption provided there is growth and generation of employment. Rampant corruption and falling growth are toxic and judgements instantaneous. It is unlikely that history, even if written by sympathetic Congress historians, will be any kinder.
(Hardeep S. Puri is a retired diplomat who last served as India's Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York. He recently joined the BJP. The views expressed are personal. )