Monday, December 19, 2011

CONGRESS CANNOT SUCCEEED .../The Sunday Standard/December 18, 2011



The greatest barrier to success is the fear of losing, goes an old proverb. It aptly describes the current state of Indian politics with most political parties locked in the grip of the fear of losing. When the Congress party decided to welcome Rashtriya Lok Dal leader Ajit Singh into the UPA fold, it reflected more weakness than confidence. Ajit has never been known for good politics or great governance. He has always been a politician on the prowl, seeking easy prey. He has always been led by his mission and has consistently ignored the means. He mastered the art of wooing those who are suffering from the fear of losing power or facing defeat. After weeks of both secret and open dialogue and deals, Ajit got the better of the Congress leadership and became the 33rd minister in Manmohan Singh’s Cabinet—the largest since Independence.

While Ajit’s triumphant return to power marked his rise, it also signalled the erosion of Congress’s confidence in retaining power at the Centre and winning the state Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. For the past few months, Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi has been crisscrossing the state—covering sweltering hamlets and stinking cities—to establish his acceptability and proving his ability to win an election for his 115-year-old party. In his speeches, he always expressed confidence and assured his workers a return to power for the Congress in Uttar Pradesh after 20 years. The Congress had never sought an alliance with any regional party since it trusts the power of Brand Rahul to get the winning votes. His contempt for local heavyweights like Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati was more than visible in his diatribes against the politics of caste and community. During his seven-year stint in politics, Rahul’s objective has been to win Uttar Pradesh for the Congress and for himself; as he knows, without a success in his own state, he can’t become the leader of the nation or Prime Minister. The Congress was taking its success in Uttar Pradesh for granted until recently till they were suddenly struck by a fear of the unknown.

Instead of fighting to win, the Congress chose to make compromises with its avowed ideology to ward off the fear of defeat. In the process, it has indirectly conceded Rahul needs more time to win an election for the party without leaning on the crutches of a regional party or tainted leaders. Perhaps, after losing miserably in Bihar in spite of Rahul’s vigorous campaign, the party isn’t willing to risk another political blow to their future leader’s iconic image. Though there is nothing in common between a 72-year-old Jat leader and a 41-year-old Gandhi scion, both will be seeking votes against Mayawati’s misrule in return for a better development-oriented coalition government. The longevity of a pre-poll alliance, however, is highly suspect. In the most unlikely event of them getting a near-majority, the Congress may find it difficult to retain Ajit in the alliance. His destination is Lucknow and not New Delhi. Since the Congress hasn’t declared its chief ministerial candidate, the junior Chaudhary is most likely to stake his claim for the post that was once held by his father, Chaudhary Charan Singh.

But the fear of losing has blinded the Congress from looking into the future. For example, it was the fear of losing Andhra Pradesh that led the Congress to finally admit film actor Chiranjeevi into the party; he was also promised a berth in the Union Cabinet at the cost of old and loyal Congress leaders. The party showed some guts when it replaced old Rosaiah with a young and clean Kiran Reddy as AP chief minister. He would have succeeded had he been given a free hand and authority. Within a few months, the Congress leadership lost its confidence in his governance and the local leadership; it went on a witch-hunt against its opponents because it feared the whole world was conspiring against the Centre.

Even while conducting its business in Parliament, the Congress hasn’t pressed for the passage of various important bills in the Rajya Sabha because it fears it will lose. Instead of calling the Opposition’s bluff on the floor of the House, the Congress has either chosen to withdraw many legislations or not to press for their introduction. The Prime Minister is also unwilling to take on his Cabinet colleagues on crucial decisions. On food security, nuclear energy plant in Tamil Nadu, Foreign Direct Investment in retail and others, the UPA leadership is reluctant to take the plunge to succeed. The Congress is bound to achieve a remarkable success in the long run if it rejects invisible barriers now. But it has chosen to accept the roadblocks because it fears to in the short run. No wonder, even after two decades, the party is still hobbling on borrowed crutches.


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