Congress fails to learn key lessons
About a month back while interacting with Ghulam Nabi Azad who is the Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, at a television panel discussion, I had invited the seasoned politician’s wrath when I pointed out that the Congress had adopted a lethargic strategy of opposing the government through subversion of parliamentary politics. “Let me assure you they (the government) would not have a majority in the House (Rajya Sabha) till 2018 and after that it would be a lame duck government,” Azad had angrily said.
Azad’s outburst had two takeaways. One the Congress did not have the confidence of doing well in the forthcoming assembly polls and BJP was set to overtake the opposition in Rajya Sabha by 2018. The second was more dangerous, that it did not desire the government to function smoothly. If we examine this closely, and in a lighter vein, it would be more appropriate for BJP to mouth Arvind Kejriwal’s line, “Woh Pareshan Karte Rahe, Hum Kaam Karte Rahe (They kept bothering <g data-gr-id="74">us</g> but we kept working).”
The Congress strategy to paralyze the Parliament has not really paid dividends as the government has managed to push ahead its reforms agenda which was on clear display when it energetically backed the ordinance on the controversial Land Acquisition Act several times. At the same time, the government has been showing political astuteness and dexterity by giving up on amendments and allowing the states to make their own laws. The Congress leaders would do well to travel to the countryside, where they would find out for themselves that this steering by the BJP has indeed spurred construction work on the National Highways, which had come to a standstill during the UPA regime.
Some analysts, however, point out that the strategy to obstruct the working of the parliament is a short term plan as they expect Nitish-Lalu to defeat BJP soundly in the upcoming Bihar assembly polls. The Congress thereafter expects that there would be a wave of dissent within the BJP and Narendra Modi would not find himself in a similar position of strength. Now this is perhaps a flawed strategy and erroneous tactical calculation as the Congress is banking too much on the weakness and fissures which may arise in the BJP post the assembly polls rather than have faith its own strength.
The strategists within the Congress would also be naive to believe that the BJP would not be having a counter to the checkmate being planned by the Opposition. Two recent developments should be an eye-opener for the Congress. The steadfastness that the Government showed in hanging 1993 Bombay Serial Blast accused Yakub Razzaq Memon despite the unprecedented counter mounted by the anti-capital punishment lobbyists, should have raised cockles of many a hearts among the party’s cadres and its core constituency. The successful neutralisation of the terror attack in Punjab was also used as an opportunity to launch an attack on the Congress. Rajnath Singh did not fail to point out the Congress-led UPA government’s weak handling of terror cases earlier. These developments must have helped in the consolidation of the wider ideological family that is the Sangh Parivar.
There are lessons for the Congress to be learnt from history. Historian Ram Chandra Guha in a recent article said, “A knowledge of history may thus make the <g data-gr-id="84">aam</g> aadmi more self-critical, less xenophobic. As for political (or business or sporting) leaders, knowledge of history is — or should be — the best antidote to hubris.” The current stand of Congress vis-a-vis Narendra Modi led NDA government borders on xenophobia and built on hubris. I had mentioned in these columns a few days back alluding to a reference to John Milton’s Paradise Lost that the Congress had made it amply clear that it was out to turn the image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi from that of leader of the Archangels into that of Lucifer, the spearhead of the fallen heroes.
Has the Congress succeeded at it? I doubt it. It is increasingly finding itself isolated within the Opposition benches. The Prime Minister on the other hand by leading the nation in an unprecedented national mourning on the demise of former President APJ Abdul Kalam was effectively send out a message that the state under in him was not “averse” to people from minority community though some tried to make out a case that Memon was hanged because he was a Muslim.
There is a lesson for the Congress in what happened after the fall of Atal Bihari Vajpayee government by one vote in 1999. The lame duck government under Vajpayee led the country to a massive victory in Kargil war, making the whole nation celebrate it even as the Congress sulked over it. I even recall protests by Congress cadres on what they called government’s failure to prevent intrusion. The Congress leadership then thought it was effectively exposing the government but instead it made people rally behind Vajpayee’s leadership. The BJP handsomely won the polls which followed with Vajpayee remaining in office for five more years.
The Congress leadership has to guard against similar mistakes and prevent them from happening again. If the coming together of Janata Pariwar and the Congress would prevent division of substantial Muslim vote in Bihar, it also has the potential to polarise the Hindu vote in favour of the BJP especially after the controversy sought to be raised by parties like Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) over the hanging of Memon. Sometimes one feels that MIM leader serves the cause of the BJP better by raising these issues than help protects the minorities.
The Congress must realise, after the defeat of 1999, the party rebuilt itself brick-by-brick; it should do the same now. There are no shortcuts as Sonia Gandhi had grasped in the 1990s when Mulayam Singh Yadav had refused to support her as Prime Minister. The party should allow the NDA government to function and let it commit mistakes, or Narendra Modi could say, “Woh Pareshan Karte Rahe, Hum Kam Karte Rahe (They kept bothering <g data-gr-id="62">us</g> but we kept working).”
(The author is president Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice and Consulting Editor, Millennium Post)