Millennium Post

Dubious voices in Cong camp

Senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh once described himself as a loose cannon. That was the time when he called P Chidambaram ‘intellectually arrogant’ in connection with the launching of the so-called Operation Green Hunt against the Maoists. Chidambaram, who was then the union home minister, earned the praise of the BJP for being so proactive compared to his predecessor, the ‘spectacularly inept’ – according to Wikileaks – Shivraj Patil. If Digvijay Singh’s views were different from the BJP’s, the reason, it was believed, was that he was reflecting Sonia Gandhi’s unease about the stern steps being taken against the Maoists considering the prevalence of a thesis in the Congress that negotiations with the ‘misguided’ rebels were preferable to police action. This conciliatory approach once made the home ministry officials in New Delhi direct a police force in Andhra Pradesh to let a group of trapped Maoists escape.

It is not impossible that like his senior colleague, Salman Khurshid also acts as a sounding board for the Congress president about controversial ideas. The likelihood appeared plausible when he defied the Election Commission during the UP assembly elections by speaking about the reservations for backward castes among Muslims in defiance of the model code of conduct. Now, he has had a dig at the commission by saying that ‘three of them’, viz. the commissioners, ‘can decide’ what one can say during a poll campaign.

The reference to the number of commissioners has an interesting background. It was when the commission was a one-member panel under the chairmanship of T N Seshan in the early 1990s that the ‘caged parrot’ (the Supreme Court’s phrase for the CBI) became a free bird. But, alarmed at the signs of autonomy, the government appointed two other members as commissioners. But, the trend of acting freely without kowtowing to the government established by Seshan has remained unaltered.

However, the occasional criticism of the commission, as at present, indicates that the Congress hasn’t taken kindly to its freedom from political control – a prerogative which the party and its government denies to the CBI, the police, Doordarshan and other supposedly autonomous institutions. The fact that the party has gone out of its way to endorse Khurshid’s comments shows that his opinion has Sonia Gandhi’s blessings.

Considering how the commission arouses the Congress’s wrath, it is not surprising that another institution – the judiciary – which cannot be reined in by the government has also been targeted by the external affairs minister. He lectured the School of Oriental and African Studies in London to the effect that ‘important democratic decisions’ are being taken by ‘an unaccountable body of people’. It is not surprising that the minister’s umbrage is directed at the two ‘judge-made’ laws which prohibit politicians accused of criminality from contesting elections and call for the completion of trials against them within six months. The show of sympathy for the accused is understandable at a time when the percentage of MPs with a dubious past stands at 29.8. Of them, 14 per cent face serious charges such as violent crimes, forgery, theft and cheating. It is to save one of these M.P.s, viz. Lalu Prasad Yadav, that the government brought an ordinance, which was declared as ‘complete nonsense’ by the Congress’s heir apparent, Rahul Gandhi.

But, considering that the green signal for it had been given by a committee of the party, which included Sonia Gandhi, one can discern here the inspiration behind Khurshid’s indignation over the judiciary’s ‘convoluted decisions’. The minister had argued at the time of the aborted ordinance that sometimes the party had to place pragmatism above principles. The skullduggery was needed then since the Congress was looking for support from Lalu Prasad’s party to fight the elections in Bihar. But, what his latest comments emphasize is that Sonia Gandhi’s cynicism has been placed above the son’s show of ethics by the Congress. It has to be remembered that ever since Indira Gandhi underlined her preference for a committed bureaucracy and a committed judiciary, the party has continued to distance itself from the objective of promoting autonomous institutions. It may no longer openly support Indira Gandhi’s emasculation of such bodies, but the Congress’s mindset does not seem to have changed since the days of the Emergency. That Rahul Gandhi idolises his grandmother who very nearly throttled Indian democracy, and not the dyed-in-the-wool democrat Jawaharlal Nehru, is not without relevance in this context. It isn’t only scams, economic slump, inflation and feudal subservience to a family, which have brought the Congress to its present sorry pass when it will be lucky to get 100 seats in the Lok Sabha.

No less a contribution to its demise has been made by a pervasive opportunistic attitude which looks at every issue with the objective of garnering votes, whether it is reviving the enumeration of castes for inclusion in the census data after a gap of eight decades or dragging its feet on enacting anti-superstition legislation favoured by the assassinated rationalist Narendra Dhabolkar. Similar cynicism explains its impatience with autonomous institutions.

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