Millennium Post

Rahul is divorced from reality

Even with defeat staring the Congress in the face, the party continues to rely on the flawed political understanding of the Nehru-Gandhi family. Unless it realises that it is the dynasty’s egregious mistakes which are responsible for its plummeting fortune, there is no hope of reprieve for the party.

Among the mistakes was the willingness to turn a blind eye to the venality of allies, as was evident in the spectrum scam, lest any firm step against them destabilises the government. The fallout was the start of the season of scams which irretrievably tarred the government’s reputation.

The recent 4-0 drubbing in the northern and central states should have been sufficient warning for the Congress that the policies which the government pursued at the family’s behest were being unceremoniously rejected by the common people. These included not only the much tom-tommed rural employment scheme, but also the food security bill, which Sonia Gandhi pushed through despite the agriculture minister Sharad Pawar’s objections.

But, none of these – or ‘entitlements’ like the right to information, the right to education, etc – convinced the electorate that the party’s heart bleeds for the poor. The reason was that the sops were seen as poor substitutes for the neglect of economic reforms which would have kept the growth rate at a high level and provided greater employment opportunities.

But, the dynasty evinced little interest in such impersonal growth which seemingly takes place outside the political arena and does not remind the people of the family. Instead, the dynasty’s feudal outlook makes it believe that only the ‘entitlements’ ordered by it in the name of family members – the Indira Gandhi awaas yojana, the Rajiv Gandhi awaas yojana, the Rajiv Gandhi equity saving scheme, etc – are worthwhile because they keep the family’s name in the public domain. Hence the deflection of the focus from economic reforms driven by the private sector to the purely legislative approach which emphasises the family’s primary role. Nothing demonstrated this stress on sops and subsidies more than Rahul Gandhi’s spirited directive to the prime minister during the AICC session, much to the visible delight of Sonia Gandhi, to raise the quantum of cooking gas cylinders from nine in a year to 12 even if this largesse imposed an additional financial burden on the government.

But, such profligacy is of no concern to a family reared in luxury. Hence, Sonia Gandhi’s advice to the government that resources will have to be found from whatever source for the food security law. Just as the family is willing to implement its pet projects irrespective of the state of the finances, it also cares little for constitutional proprieties if these come in the way of what it intends to do to buttress its political position.

This lack of respect for norms was evident from Rahul Gandhi’s wish for the enactment of the anti-corruption laws by whatever means possible. Since these bills could not be passed in the last session of parliament, the heir apparent wanted the government to take the ordinance route to get them on the statute book. It did not matter to him that ordinances should be passed in the rarest of rare cases as when there is a sudden emergency at a time when parliament is not in session.
True, in Rahul Gandhi’s view, an emergency does exist for the Congress. Not only is the party facing defeat, there is speculation that its tally may fall below 100 Lok Sabha seats. It previous lowest tally of 114 in 1999 can be seen, in retrospect, as the darkness before dawn because the party succeeded in reviving itself in 2004 by winning 145 seats. But, the gain is deemed to be a gift of the BJP in view of Atal Behari Vajpayee’s belief that his party lost because of the Gujarat riots of 2002.

Arguably, if there hadn’t been any riots, the Congress would not have bounced back. This time, however, its chances of resuscitation in 2019 are small unless its opponents make a horrendous mistake. But, such chances are little. For a start, the BJP seems to have learnt the lesson that Hindutva is a dead cause even if the RSS still puts its faith in it. However, Narendra Modi appears to have realised what the Congress hasn’t – that the opening up of the economy has changed the popular mindset. The people no longer look to the government for gas cylinders, but to a buoyant economy. Hence, his emphasis on development. By calling upon the BJP’s traditional supporters – the banias – to prepare for a global challenge, Modi has even indicated that he is no longer opposed to FDI in retail like his party.

In contrast, neither Sonia nor Rahul Gandhi has ever mentioned the economic reforms since they continue to live in the pre-1991 age with their preference for caste-based reservations and official doles like the rural employment scheme which does not build any assets. Now, it is too late for the family and party to wake up to the reality of a changed India.

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