Pranab Mukherjee moves on to greener pastures and should win the election by a mile. PM Manmohan Singh, as anticipated, takes the finance portfolio but 2012 is very different from 1991. P V Narasimha Rao in 1991 had provided a political security cloud to finance minister Manmohan Singh as he implemented reforms. The pressure from the Congress was intense and eventually the Congress(T) came and went but the groundwork of reforms survived. Manmohan now faces a difficult time and there is no magic solution to our ailments. Difficult decisions deferred for a year due to elections can no longer be delayed. Who will protect PM/FM Manmohan from political attacks as he has to bite many ‘bullets’ at the same time?
Remember, in 1991 he was 60 and now he is closer to 80 but is fit and needs support at every level. There are no miracles in politics and the positive sign is that work has already started on multiple fronts and we must wish the government well.
The real issue is to restore confidence in the political system and to have a simple chain of command within the government. Is it necessary for senior ministers at the Centre to spread their wisdom beyond their brief? Are they creating additional power centres to bolster their careers? Ministers, party office holders cannot speak in dual tones and express personal opinions. Stories are not created by the media but are spread by those who are obsessed with their own importance and place their welfare above that of the party.
Time is limited and the reform process which has already started will gain momentum. It is equally important to have critical ministries manned by competent ministers. Look at the mess in the energy sector. Do we have the right ministers to handle commerce and industry, petroleum, coal, power and steel? Can we blame the Greek crisis or the financial mess in Spain and Italy for our energy mess and multiple scams? Cosmetic changes are of no use. What is the logic given to us by the coal minister for allocation of coal blocks? Have all these prevented massive price increases and a fall in production? Are we not importing millions of tonnes of coal?
Politics by confusion is not an option. We cannot be a silent spectator to events across the globe. We have seen anarchy, chaos and death in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and now Syria. It may take a decade or more for things to return to normal. We see terror chaos in Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan; we see winds of change sweeping across the UK and Europe; and we see a prolonged period of economic unrest.
The past year and a half has been very difficult. We have suffered from indifferent governance at the Centre and after 10 Assembly battles, the Congress and to some extent the BJP have suffered reverses at the expense of regional forces but our electoral systems and democracy have survived and all credit goes to the aam aadmi and his patience.
We have elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, and a volatile situation in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka; elections can come at any time. The Gujarat situation is well known. In Himachal Pradesh, the BJP has the incumbent chief minister and the talented Anurag Thakur in the wings. The Congress, after the resignation of Virbhadra Singh, will need to fill the void. Will Anand Sharma lead the Congress? Odds will favour the BJP both in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. The Congress needs to stabilise the situation in Andhra Pradesh as the YSR Congress, TRS and TDP are more than serious challenges. Will the senior trio at the Centre — Jaipal Reddy, Kishore Chandra Deo and Renuka Chowdhury — go to the state? In Karnataka, who will lead the Congress in the field? S M Krishna, Veerappa Moily and Mallikarjun Kharge can all lend a hand but someone younger and acceptable is required. Will Jairam Ramesh go test his political skill in the state?
The Congress has to fight a battle on both fronts, and both the party and the government have to work in close coordination with each other. Multiple power bases must be avoided. I am being repetitive but the battle for 2014 will be won by those who win the states and at the moment, the regional parties are ahead of the Congress and BJP.
E-mail the writer at email@example.com
Nehru is a former Union minister