Millennium Post

Sonia bows to DMK again

The reason why the Congress president chose to prevail over the prime minister – irrespective of his opinion – was the same as when she persuaded him to retain Andimuthu Raja in the cabinet till he was hauled away to jail following the Supreme Court’s intervention. Before the former telecom minister fell foul of the law, the prime minister was reluctant to move against him because of the fear that the DMK, the party to which Raja belonged, might withdraw support to the government.
Sonia Gandhi evidently wanted to avoid such an eventuality by choosing to turn a blind eye to the minister’s shenanigans even if it reflected poorly on the prime minister’s reputation for honesty.

Moreover, as subsequent events have shown, such expediency is ultimately politically damaging because Raja’s alleged malfeasance was the first of the many scams which besmirched the government’s and the Congress’s image. It also led to the DMK’s and the Congress’s defeat in the Tamil Nadu assembly elections. Yet, in a desperate bid to hold on to the reins of power, Sonia Gandhi is still following the path of placating the DMK. This time, it isn’t the possibility of the latter ditching the Congress, which is bothering the party president, but the need to keep it in good humour because the Congress will require its support in the aftermath of the next general election.

With the possibility of the Congress’s tally of Lok Sabha seats falling behind the BJP’s, the former needs all the support it can get from friends – both within and outside the UPA – to keep its nose above the turbulent political waters.

In this quest for survival, the party, and especially its president, has no time for diplomatic niceties. If the DMK needs to berate Sri Lanka to boost its own position as a champion of cross-border Tamil interests vis-à-vis its arch-rival in Tamil Nadu, the AIADMK, then Sonia Gandhi will not hesitate to endorse its chauvinistic prejudices born of domestic compulsions at the expense of antagonising a neighbouring country and pushing it closer to Pakistan and China.

Most of Sonia’s policies seem to be guided by the principle of living for the day with little thought for the future. It was evident in her keenness for the food security law. Although she had no idea how it would be financed, she told Parliament that the resources would have to be found. Her inadequate knowledge of economics helped her formulate her views. Similarly, in 2008, she had expressed reservations about the Indo-US nuclear deal since, as she said, the Left had a point in its opposition to the measure. But, the main reason for her stance was to keep the communists on board lest their withdrawal led to the government’s fall – just as she now wants to keep the DMK on the Congress’ side.

Fortuitously, the Samajwadi Party’s support to the government at the time had saved the day for it. But, there can be little doubt about Sonia’s tactic of pursuing an amoral, expedient line. This was evident in the ordinance to protect politicians charged with criminal offences, which she had okayed while it was being discussed at a Congress core group meeting.

Again, the need for Lalu Prasad Yadav’s support in the post-poll situation negated any ethical compulsions. As her acolyte, Salman Khurshid explained, a party sometimes has to put pragmatism above principles. So much for emphasising both ends and means, which was Mahatma Gandhi’s credo.

The role of the ‘accidental’ prime minister was minimal in all these stratagems. Only in the case of the nuclear deal did Manmohan Singh have his way, but that was because he had Rahul Gandhi’s backing. Otherwise, Sonia Gandhi must have realised over the last nine and a half years how prescient her inner voice was when she chose Manmohan Singh, for he allows himself to be pushed around on nearly all the issues.

Even on the subject of economics on which he can claim some expertise, he has had to yield ground to the left-of-centre views of former and present members of Sonia Gandhi’s kitchen cabinet – the National Advisory Council – like Jean Dreze, Aruna Roy, Harsh Mander, et al. Manmohan Singh simply did not have the gumption to tell them that their ‘outdated ideology’, to use his words, would only lead to the stalling of reforms, as it did.

If Sonia Gandhi’s decision to pander to the DMK has left the prime minister with no option but to meekly follow in her wake, there was no such compulsion when Mamata Banerjee opposed the Teesta waters treaty with Bangladesh. But, Manmohan Singh nevertheless caved in presumably because he is incapable of taking a firm stand.That was another occasion when India’s foreign policy was determined not by national interests, but by the restricted vision of a regional party.

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