IF THE events of November 26- 28 in Mumbai were a tragedy, then those of the last week — both in the government and the ruling party — are nothing less than a farce which reinforces the widely held belief that the Congress seldom draws lessons from experience.
It has in Sonia Gandhi a leader who is both unchallenged and unquestioned. When nothing less than decisive action was called for, it has been proved itself woefully inadequate, unable to come up with a cohesive, credible and efficient strategy to fight terror.
Accountability began with the sacking of two Patils — Shivraj, who deserved a break because the country needed a break from his policing — and the Maharashtra deputy chief minister R. R. Patil, who will forever be remembered for this gem that “ in big cities such things happen”. Imagine Rudolph Giuliani, then New York mayor, saying on the afternoon of September 11, 2001 that in a city with so many skyscrapers, it is quite possible that the occasional aircraft strays from its flight path and hits something as tall as the twin towers of the World Trade Centre.
Getting Shivraj Patil, the weakest home minister that it has been this country’s misfortune to suffer, was the easy part, but somewhere thereafter, the Congress got paralysis. Chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh “ offered” to resign, but held out stubbornly as crucial days went by. Even Narasimaha Rao, not exactly the most decisive of men, got Sudhakar Rao Naik to step down and dispatched Sharad Pawar in his place after terrorists struck Mumbai in March 1993. This time, the party pussyfooted, sent external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee and defence minister A. K. Antony, who had their jobs cut out in a crisis situation like this, to sort out what was essentially an intra party matter.
Let’s get this straight. Sharad Pawar wasn’t seeking accountability from his party mate RR Patil when he got him to resign.
He wasn’t setting an example either. He just grabbed the best chance to oust Vilasrao Deshmukh for whom he has as much love as, say, George Bush would for Osama bin Laden. But Vilasrao was not about to quit without extracting a price. And it was obvious that with his powerful backers in Delhi, he could afford to flex his muscles. After six days of dilly dallying, the Congress on Friday indicated it was ready to meet his terms by appointing Ashok Chavan, Deshmukh’s preferred nominee as Maharshrtra’s new chief minister.
The appointment has brought flak, from within. Narayane Rane, who lost out yet again, is hurling abuses at the high command which can do nothing more than grin and bear it. Leave aside the fact of the dynasty in Delhi propping up another one in Mumbai. Son of S. B. Chavan, amongst the most formidable Union home ministers ever, Ashok is known more for qualities that his father would have disapproved. But he has his uses, particularly when the party has to face in a few months time a general election it’s known to dread.
Ashok has an immense ability to mobilise resources and one of the senior- most cabinet ministers from the state , no pauper himself, once told me that Maharashtra pools in about 70 per cent of the money that the Congress needs to fight elections.
The bottomline is: The fight against the enemy outside can wait until we sort out the minor issue of electoral battles to be fought at home.