Millennium Post

Year of decisive political battle

AD 2013 for we Indians, has not ended on as gloomy and depressive note as 2012 did. While the government at the Centre led by Manmohan Singh, whose absence from public life is no more conspicuous, has not done much to write anything home about, the people of the country have risen to the challenges posed by the malfunctioning of the world’s oldest political party.

The collective leadership of the Congress, with Sonia Gandhi as party president and Manmohan Singh as head of government has fallen apart. The induction of Rahul Gandhi as vice-president with much fanfare in January last year at party’s convention in Jaipur has not been of much help with the Congress getting routed in the polls to the four legislative assemblies held in November-December 2013.

The days that have followed the results show that the Congress has no plans in place to recover from the rout. Rahul Gandhi claiming that they have plenty to learn from the Aam Admi Party (AAP) and his mentors like Mani Shankar Aiyer tom-toming the same lines only goes to prove the point. Their biggest shortcoming is lack of communication skills, which the AAP definitely has in plenty. The head of the government doesn’t communicate, the head of the party doesn’t communicate, the future of the party doesn’t communicate and the party doesn’t trust its leaders to communicate.

One wonders why the Congress has decided to outsource the job to speak for the party to its ‘friends’ and ‘sympathisers’ like Sanjay K Jha and the Poonawalas, with whom an ordinary Congress worker would not identify. The Congress party is suffering from the crisis of identity. It’s unable to decide whether it would follow an economic, social and political agenda which would be capitalist growth oriented or have socialistic welfare leanings. While the team of finance minister P Chidamabaram would push the agenda for second generation economic reforms, battered by the poll results Rahul Gandhi as of now looks to be convinced on going for a socialistic manifesto.

On the political front, likes of Jairam Ramesh, who are seen to be close to civil society, are persuading Gandhi scion to parrot lines that he was looking at politics in long term and his think tank on Gurudwara Rakabganj road is now more or less girdling up for battle in 2019. On the other hand the party is also adopting devious means to stop Narendra Modi-skippered BJP from coming to power. In the midst of all this the party has forgotten to address the core issue of corruption. After tearing the ordinance on giving relief to the convicted lawmakers to smithereens, Rahul Gandhi-led Congress permits a Lalu Yadav to play his political promoter. This has left a likely formidable supporter like Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar licking his wounds and plan for the raising of the third front. Probably, this is what the Congress desires to stop anointment of Modi as prime minister following 2014 Lok Sabha polls. But this could come at great cost to the party as has happened in Delhi assembly polls – political catastrophe. The Congress and its allies, instead of showing sensitivity to the genuine frustration of the people with rampant corruption, unbearable inflation, feudalistic arrogance of the representatives of the people and almost a chaotic national scene on the security and foreign policy front and declining economy, worked more towards diverting the advantage of people’s anger from the BJP to the third force – the AAP. While the Congress strategists thought the AAP could play the role of shock-absorber, it ended up acting as a vacuum cleaner.

The blame for the rise the AAP has also to be shared by the BJP leadership in equal terms. The party with a difference at least in Delhi did not look any different from a ramshackle set-up overcome with petty politics and mutual jealousies. It was only towards the end of campaign, with defeat looming large for fourth time in a row that the BJP decided to declare its chief ministerial candidate in Harshvardhan. The problem with the BJP is that it considers itself as the natural harvester of disaffection against the Congress. The AAP in Delhi exploited this mistaken conception to their advantage. In a recent article veteran bureaucrat Shakti Sinha surmised BJP’s lack of impressive performance in Delhi in very apt words. ‘The political parties have ceased to exist at the local level; there are no party workers available to transmit messages back and forth. Citizens have to approach touts, not political workers, to sort out their problems with the bureaucracy. And no one is there who can convey to the political leadership the messages coming from the grassroots, particularly at the micro and mohalla level. The AAP’s volunteers reached out commendably and were seen as selfless, not self-serving,’ wrote Sinha. The BJP has to watch against this shortcoming in its organisation. In the Delhi poll just one of the several backroom candidates managed to win election. In the distribution of tickets the party would have to overcome the system of quota for each big leader. BJP lost about half-a-dozen seats in Delhi thanks to these candidates, whom the cadres just refused to accept and shifted allegiance to AAP.  Some BJP supporters are already calling AAP a Shikhadi but calling names would not help. They should recall that a Shikhadi was responsible for the fall of colossus like Bhisham Pitamah and loss of the rulers of Hastinapur in th epic battle of Kurukshetra. Poll 2014 is not going to be just a battle of Kshatriya rulers but a contest requiring strategy, guile, marksmanship and valour but above all honesty towards the people they wish to govern.

The author is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and is Consulting Editor, Millennium Post
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