Monday, December 26, 2011

Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/ December 25, 2011

Power & Politics

The King C0ng Option is on the Table, and It's Not Going To Work

Consistency has never been the virtue of Indian political parties. The ruling Congress is no exception. Mauled and marred by adverse publicity for its failure to create a strong Lokpal Bill, the Congress first chose to walk with Team Anna. It accepted the deadline set by Hazare for the Bill’s passage. It made Team Anna’s voice mightier than its own collective speech. Leaders, including Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh, provided mass legitimacy to the movement by writing numerous letters to Anna. But that was a couple of months ago.

Last week, the same Congress party questioned the very idea of civil society activism. Suddenly, it invoked the principle of parliamentary supremacy and asserted its right to legislate, even if it went against the spirit of the Constitution. Through various actions and statements, the party leadership is trying to create the impression that it is not merely hanging on in office, but also has the will to govern with full authority. It is not willing to lose sleep or prestige under pressure from an agitation led by an ‘individual’. The Congress has once again asserted its unique DNA, which allows it to make and break deals according to its convenience, even at the cost of conviction.

The Congress has decided to confront its challengers within and outside. None other than the Congress president herself blew the bugle. While addressing partymen, Sonia scolded them for behaving like losers. She repeated her mother-in-law Indira Gandhi’s favourite ideological weapon — the destabilisation theory. She said: “Let’s fight the forces out to destabilise us; the forces who never accepted the verdicts of 2004 and 2009.” She went a step further by announcing, “I am always ready for a fight.” The party, as well as UPA ministers looking forward to their Christmas holidays were once again ordered to train their guns on the Opposition. During the Lokpal debate, Sonia thumped her desk vigorously when Lalu Prasad Yadav made fun of Team Anna. The Congress was once again at its usual best: dividing the Opposition and isolating its worst enemy, the BJP. Even Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee took an uncharacteristically confrontationist approach when he dismissed important objections raised by the Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj on the Lokpal Bill. Mukherjee argued that Parliament cannot give up its right to legislate simply because the judiciary may strike it down. Interpretation: Parliament could also pass laws that can take away the fundamental rights of citizens as it happened during the Emergency. After Sonia and Pranab became aggressive, Manmohan couldn’t afford to be left behind. During a meeting with corporate leaders last week, the Prime Minister chastised them for attacking the Government for policy paralysis. Even top industrialists like Ratan Tata must have been shocked at Manmohan’s newly acquired confidence. He left none of them in doubt that the Government wouldn’t treat them as partners in growth if they continued their pessimistic attitude.

He couldn’t have spoken like a maverick in the House, unless he was assured the full support of various political parties. For the first time after many months, the Congress was able to divide the entire Opposition in the name of the minorities. One could notice a sense of relief on the once-sullen faces of Congress leaders when the composition of the Lokpal, and not its contents and powers, became the subject of national debate. By adopting the British policy of divide and rule, the Congress changed the discourse on corruption. Barring the BJP, all parties who were earlier pleading for a strong Lokpal suddenly chose to support and laud the Government on the clause providing for not less than 50 per cent reservation for SCs, STs, OBC, minorities and women in the Lokpal bodies. They must have forgotten to read the Bill, which is an apology of a legislation. If passed in its current form, the Lokpal wouldn’t have any powers to investigate or prosecute and will be just one of the many commissions or panels that occupy over 100 offices in the capital and whose members enjoy all the perks of a Cabinet minister, but not the authority to advise even a ministry official. Obviously, the Congress and its allies have come to the conclusion that corruption isn’t an election issue in India. Recent by-election results in Bellary and other places delivered verdicts in favour of those who are symbols of corruption in high places. According to Congress insiders, the party is confident of scoring impressive victories in all the five states going to the polls in early 2012. For the Congress, winning an election by any means symbolises political acceptability. In the process, it is betraying the most powerful and innovative slogan Indira gave the nation in 1980: “Elect a government that governs.”

No comments: