Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Power & Politics/ Mail Today, August 03, 2009

IT’S doubtful if Sonia Gandhi expected it, but at a time when the UPA government is being pilloried from all sides, including large sections of the Congress, for the faux pas at Sharm El Sheikh, she couldn’t have hoped for a better ally than Sushma Swaraj.

Remember, the two had fought a bitter battle for the Bellary Lok Sabha constituency in Karnataka in 1999, which Sushma eventually lost by around 50,000 votes. Five years ago, when the Congress led coalition cobbled up a majority and Sonia looked set to become the prime minister, the BJP leader had threatened to have her hair tonsured in protest against a “ foreign born” leading the country. All that now seems so long ago. By design or accident, more likely the latter, Sushma indeed appears to be the friend that Sonia badly needs. When most of the political class was attacking the government for the “ sellout”, Sushma virtually gave the Congress President a clean chit by saying that even “ Sonia Gandhi didn’t agree” with the prime minister’s actions at the NAM summit.

As a certificate, it’s priceless. Here is the deputy leader of the main opposition party in the Lok Sabha absolving the president of the ruling Congress of all responsibility, virtually saying she is as nationalistic as the BJP would like everyone to believe it is while the prime minister is the one who is keen to walk that extra mile even if it means breaking political consensus at home.

It’s obvious that the BJP’s current crop of frontline leaders don’t learn from past mistakes.
In the last Lok Sabha election, the party’s campaign was targeted around Manmohan Singh and portrayed him as the “ weakest prime minister ever”. The election results showed that the campaign was wide off target. Yet the BJP seems to persist with the failed strategy which I believe is an indication of the confusion that prevails in the party from top to bottom. Just another example would suffice. After the stellar performance by Yashwant Sinha in the Rajya Sabha following which even some Congressmen told me that he clearly had the government on the mat, in the Lok Sabha, Sushma stood up to wax eloquent about climate change. In doing so, she not only helped the government out of a sticky situation but ended up showing the deep divisions in her own party.

Dr Manmohan Singh was my professor in college and much as it is an honour for anyone to be taught by him, it must be stated that, by nature, he is a follower. He may have original ideas yet he would rather follow an agenda set by someone else rather than set one himself. So be it Amartya Sen, Narasimha Rao or Sonia Gandhi, he’d rather listen than talk, follow than lead. That is why I disagree with my dear friend Sushmaji. It Sinha: Great show is my firm belief that what happened at Sharm el Skeikh was not without clearance from 10 Janpath, because Manmohan knows his survival depends on doing the bidding of the most powerful address in the country. Just as in the nuclear deal last July, the prime minister had the full support of Sonia in the recent re- direction of the foreign policy. Sharm El Skeikh was a result of that.

The Congress leadership has been smart enough to make it appear that it is the Prime Minister’s prerogative to guide policy making. Manmohan doesn’t have that. It’s a pity that barring the main opposition party, everybody knows this.

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