Millennium Post

Cong’s confused thinking

Former defence minister A K Antony is not the right person for analysing the causes of the Congress’s defeat. For one, his proximity to the Nehru-Gandhi family cannot but limit his perspective, making him overlook the baneful effect of the party’s feudal ambience on its electoral appeal. For another, as a left-leaning person, he will tend to approve of the family’s populism even if groups in the Congress, albeit small ones, may have differed since profligate measures distort the balance sheet.

His report, therefore, will probably ignore two crucial reasons for the party’s downfall. The first is the unease which sections of the electorate have begun to feel about the Congress’s dependence on the dynasty since it resembles a zamindari household which is out of sync with the real world. The fawning party members surrounding it reinforce this unflattering impression. The second reason relates to the change that has taken place since the opening up of the economy in 1991 enhanced the prospects of employment because of a high growth rate. As a result, the sops and subsidies promised by the dynasty began to lose its appeal. For a ‘socialist’ like Antony, who apparently believes in a controlled economy as his opposition to FDI in the retail sector and in the defence industry shows, it may not be easy to accept that the supposedly pro-rich economic reforms have taken the sheen of the doles and handouts preferred by the family.

But, even if Antony is ideologically ill-equipped to identify the factors responsible for the worst-ever drubbing suffered by the party, he has at least put his finger on a major cause – the Congress’s flawed interpretation of secularism. He has also been courageous in underlining this aspect of the party’s functioning since, in doing so, he has virtually endorsed the BJP’s longstanding charge of pseudo-secularism practised by the Congress. In essence, Antony’s view is that instead of being even-handed in its handling of religious matters, the party has tilted towards the minorities, especially the Muslims. The fallout is that this perceived partiality has enabled the genuinely non-secular parties to gain ground by pointing to the ‘appeasement’ of the Muslims.

Since the observation has come almost immediately after the Congress and NCP-led Maharashtra government’s announcement of a 4.5 per cent quota for Muslims, along with 16 per cent reservations for Marathas, for purposes of education and employment, it has unambiguously confirmed the party’s opportunism in exploiting religious and communitarian sentiments for electoral gain. It’s worth recalling that the Congress has been peddling the issue of 4.5 per cent quota for Muslims for quite some time, notably during the UP assembly elections in 2012, but without any effect, as the party’s dismal performance showed. Evidently, the supposedly underprivileged are no longer impressed by such promises. However, considering how such sectarianism has guided the party for decades, Antony’s comment is an implied criticism of the family, which is behind such an approach.
It can be asked, of course, why the stalwart from Kerala has been silent for so long. It is also obvious that he would not have blurted out the truth but for the electoral debacle. It can also be asserted that the truthful, though unpleasant, observation may not have much of an impact on the Congress’s policy makers who have long been used to the manipulation of castes and communities, along with providing sops and subsidies, in the hope of advancing the party’s political fortunes.

Even then, the remark is of importance since it suggests a faint stirring among the courtiers about the family’s functioning. If the hint about pandering to Muslim sentiments is a criticism of one of the party’s guiding tenets, some of the observations about Rahul Gandhi’s operating style show that even the heir-apparent is being seen as someone not without blemish. Although no one will call him a joker any more lest he is suspended, as a Congress leader of Kerala, T H Mustafa, was, it is noteworthy that the senior general secretary, Digvijay Singh, has said that Rahul is not temperamentally fit to be a ruler. Although Singh has tried to soften the blow by adding that the dauphin ‘wants to fight injustice’, it is obvious that the Congress is realising that Rahul is not quite prime ministerial material. 

What these ruminations show is that the party is realising its shortcomings in terms of both personnel and policy. While Rahul is not measuring up to the task of leading from the front, one of the party’s supposed USPs (unique selling point) – secularism – has been found to be defective apparently because those entrusted with implementing it saw it as a manipulative tool to woo minorities and not a guiding principle which emphasised neutrality in the treatment of all sections of the people.
There is little doubt that the decline in the calibre of party members is the reason why the essence of an otherwise obvious norm of governance has been ignored. By identifying the lapse, Antony can be said to have taken the first step towards rectification. But, whether the party will have the courage of conviction to do so is open to question.
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