Sonia must share blame
If one person can be singled out for blame for the Congress’s defeat, it is Sonia Gandhi. There are others, too, such as Manmohan Singh who failed to speak up even when he realised that she was taking a wrong turn. But, the primary responsibility for the party’s worst ever performance is hers.
The reason is, for a start, her cynicism, a trait which she may have picked up from Indira Gandhi unless she had it in her genes from the start. This feature in her personality was exhibited only a few days before the defeat when she intervened during a press conference to defend the party’s nomination of the scam-tainted Ashok Chavan for the parliamentary polls.
Although the question was put to Rahul Gandhi because he had been claiming to be battling corruption, his mother quickly stepped in when she saw that Rahul was fumbling for an answer and said that there was no legal indictment of the former Maharashtra chief minister. None of the media personnel had the presence of mind, or the guts, to remind the Congress chief that there was also a moral angle, which had led to Chavan’s resignation as the chief minister.
But, it is this devious aspect of Sonia’s character which also made her turn a blind eye to Andimuthu Raja’s shenanigans as the telecom minister although Manmohan Singh wanted to dismiss him but did not dare to defy her. In the end, such expediency didn’t help either Sonia or the party. Not only is the Congress’s present drubbing the result of the public anger against the party’s sly compromise with sleaze, even its earlier defeats in the Tamil Nadu assembly elections in the DMK’s company and the present washout of the latter are all due to such blameworthy tactics. Apart from the Raja episode, which marked the beginning of the tarnishing of Manmohan Singh’s image, Sonia’s opportunism was also evident in the attempt to push through an ordinance aimed at saving tainted politicians like Laloo Prasad Yadav. In the latter’s case, the Congress president could not even claim that there was no legal case since he was already in jail. All that she wanted was to come to his rescue to facilitate the process of the Congress forming an alliance with the RJD in Bihar.
On this occasion, Rahul did not fumble. Instead, he tore up a copy of the ordinance which had been approved of by the Congress’s core group comprising the prime minister and the party chief, among others. It was that act of defiance which probably made Sonia intervene to save Chavan lest her impetuous son tore up the latter’s nomination papers as well.
But, by then, Rahul had begun to take a back seat while his mother’s crafty tactics prevailed as could be seen in the selection of the tainted Ajay Rai to take on Narendra Modi in Varanasi and the scrapping of the shehzada’s plan of local Congressmen choosing their candidate in Vadodara.
Years before the ordinance episode, Sonia had envisaged the use of caste to boost the Congress’s position even if in theory, though not in real life, the party was against sectarianism in politics. It was at her insistence that the data on castes were included in the census enumerations although the practice was stopped in 1931. Manmohan Singh was against this regressive step, but did not have the courage to oppose her.
Sonia’s calculation was that the Congress could use caste-based reservations, another retrogressive policy, to enlist support for the party. She also tried to extend the quota system to Muslims although this was legally untenable. Her tactic was to reserve seats in government establishments and educational institutions for the backward castes among Muslims although the caste system is not recognised by Islam even if, socially, the Hindu varna vyavastha does prevail among the minorities.
The former minister for minority affairs, Salman Khurshid, was among those who projected this line during the UP. assembly elections in a Muslim-dominated constituency from where his wife contested, but she lost, as has Khurshid himself in the latest election, losing his deposit in the process. Evidently, Muslims were not impressed by this promise.
Similarly, the voters have not been taken in by the so-called rights-based entitlements, which the left-of-centre National Advisory Council chaired by Sonia had fashioned. Instead, they were swayed by Modi’s promise of development, which was in sync with the trends of liberalisation and globalisation which the reforms had initiated in 1991.
The Congress, on the other hand, remained stuck in the pre-’91 period with its focus on a public sector-dominated controlled economy. What Sonia did not understand was that the reforms had unleashed the genii of private enterprise – what Manmohan Singh once called releasing the animal spirits of the entrepreneurs and investors.
However, to her, as to many Congressmen, the reforms benefitted only the corporate sector and the rich and what the country needed, therefore, was a mai-baap sarkar led by the family doling out freebies to a grateful population. This patronising attitude redolent of feudalism was rejected by the electorate. IPA