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Millennium Post

Return of the prodigal son

Since Manmohan Singh’s reputation has been taking a beating from the time of the spectrum to the Commonwealth Games scams and finally to Coalgate, the latest snub from Rahul Gandhi will not mean much to him. His refusal to resign shows that he does not mind being pushed around by the dynasty. So, it isn’t the prime minister whose position has been undermined so much as that of Sonia Gandhi.

Since she was a member of the ‘core’ group which approved the ordinance to save tainted leaders, Rahul’s trashing of the measure has proved two things – that her moral compass does not always point in the right direction and also that she no longer has the right to say the last word on any subject.

The habitually sycophantic Congressmen will keep this change in the power equation in mind. Even if the baton has not yet been passed to the heir apparent, it is clear that he is not only ready to grasp it, but also that he can now run with it in a direction different from the one preferred by his mother.

As for the Congress, its reputation is probably at its lowest ebb – much lower than that of the prime minister since it is a century-old organisation with a glorious track record. Yet, as the latest episode has shown, it comprises subservient time-servers with no interest in adhering to principles. As Salman Khurshid, a devoted camp-follower of the dynasty, has explained, a party has often had to choose between ‘pragmatism and principles.’ Since the Congress tends to ignore the latter, it has evidently junked Mahatma Gandhi’s insistence on giving equal important to means and ends.

There have been allegations that Rahul’s bombardment of the headquarters – to use a term used in China during the Mao Zedong-inspired Cultural Revolution – has undermined Parliament’s authority to make laws. However, such sophistry ignores the fact that nothing has eroded the honour of the august institution more than the presence of MPs with a criminal background within its hallowed precincts. Since the patently half-hearted attempts of the Congress and, indeed, of the entire political class to reduce the percentage of suspects in Parliament – at present it is more than 30 – have borne no fruit, Rahul’s onslaught can be said to be the first serious endeavour to cleanse the system.

True, Rahul has to answer Lalu Prasad Yadav’s charge that if he is so serious about probity, he should begin with his brother-in-law, Robert Vadra. However, a more charitable interpretation of his action can be that at least he has taken the first step when all over politicians – from the Left to the Right – did nothing at all in all these years. The Left’s, and now the Trinamool Congress’, disinclination to weed out anti-socials from politics will be acknowledged by any resident of West Bengal, and the Right’s in Gujarat.

Sonia, too, is guilty of the same lapse. But, now that Rahul has raised his banner of revolt in this respect, it may be worthwhile to consider whether there are any other differences of perception between mother and son. One such difference was over the Indo-US nuclear deal, which had Rahul’s backing while Sonia argued that the communists had a point in their objections. Even if Sonia’s stand did not have anything to do with the merits or demerits of deal, but was intended to keep the comrades in good humour lest the government should fall if they withdrew support, Rahul evidently took a broader view, which included India’s entry into the nuclear club.

He was not concerned about the possible loss of an ally, just as he was not bothered about placating Lalu Prasad Yadav as Sonia wanted. He will probably be choosier, therefore, in selecting allies than his mother who is seemingly concerned only with the arithmetic of coalition formation and is not bothered by a dubious CV.

Another difference between mother and son was explained by the latter at a party meeting, where he said that he was more strict in his outlook than Sonia. He also expressed his admiration for Indira Gandhi by saying that in a situation similar to what his grandmother faced, he would have acted in the same manner. If this denotes an authoritarian streak, it is a worrying sign. Arguably, the Press Club outburst against the controversial ordinance underlined a temperamental flaw, which is not a suitable trait in a future leader.

The real test about whether mother and son are on the same page will be not only in the matter of choosing allies in a post-election scene, but about the economic direction. Since the slowdown has largely ascribed to Sonia’s populism, Rahul’s views are of crucial importance. So far he has been supportive of his mother. But, there may be a realization that out of the ‘deficits’ of ethics and governance, which were noted by finance minister P Chidambaram, an emphasis only on the first will not be enough. Able governance which leads to a buoyant economy is also important.
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