For team Rahul, it’s good politics that will yield rich dividends for poor Indians
The days of good economics are over. For the Congress and the Gandhis, the flavour of the season simply seems to be good politics. After enjoying power for nine years, the Congress High Command has come to the conclusion that the so-called good economics pursued vigorously by the world’s oldest Prime Minister, 81-year-old Manmohan Singh, and his extreme Right wing ministers has made Corporate India only richer and more powerful. Now is the time to devise good politics, which would yield handsome political dividends. After all, the very survival of the Gandhi scion Rahul is so linked to the number of seats the Congress wins in 2014. The party and the Family do not expect a majority. But it is the nation’s First Family which has a much higher stake in politics than most Central ministers in their late 70s. The nine-year-old Laxman Rekha between government and party is becoming blurred with the new Congress leadership dictating the colour and content of governance—directly and indirectly.
Ever since Rahul was anointed the party’s Vice-President and the chief of Congress election strategy, he and his four pillars of wisdom—general secretaries Digvijaya Singh, Janardan Dwivedi, Jairam Ramesh and Ahmed Patel—have been holding long meetings not only to shortlist potential Lok Sabha candidates but also to draft legislative and administrative measures which would bring votes and allies. They meet almost every Saturday sans aides, but with a gamut of gizmos and laptops at Rahul’s official residence at 12, Tughlak Lane. IIT-ian Ramesh, known more for his tech-savvy control over the keyboard than for handling key political issues, provides numerical and qualitative data on economic and social indicators. The troika of Patel, Diggy and Dwivedi add political value to information. Contrary to general perception that government policies and responses are being influenced by NGO-dominated National Advisory Council, it is Group Rahul that is calling the shots with the full knowledge and support of the Congress president. Though the group has left it to the PM to promote economic reforms and dispatch articulate ministers on global tours to promote the UPA’s market-friendly policies and environment, it has been left to the new combination of young ministers and old loyalists to sell Rahul as the messiah of social empowerment.
While over 100 bills are pending for discussion and approval in Parliament, Rahul and team are concerned only with those bills which will get them votes from Bharat, and not laudatory editorials from pink dailies and international rating agencies. There seems to be a clear mission in their method. They have devised legislative and political packages for every section of society encompassing the rural, poor, agricultural labour, minorities, women, widows, slum dwellers, artisans and even vendors. Bestowing legislative legitimacy to UID is primary for the Congress. Sonia and Rahul are pushing for the Food Security Bill; setting up fast-track courts to try cases involving Muslim youth; granting minority status to Jamia Milia University; making more Muslim families eligible for subsidised loan from banks by increasing the income criteria to define BPL levels. For example, the duo goaded Ajay Maken, Union Minister for Housing and Poverty Alleviation, to pilot a legislation to bring urban street vendors into a formal sector. International statistics reveal that about 2.5 per cent of the urban population earn its living as vendors. India’s urban population is around 377 million. The Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood) Bill, which was cleared recently by the Cabinet, makes it mandatory for all states to provide licences to about 10 million street vendors in all cities to do business without harassment from the police and authorities. In Delhi alone, four lakh vendors will get the advantage. With one stroke, the Congress will become the darling of five crore urban Indians, a section it feels is the most affected by corruption at the lower levels. Rahul is also pushing for another legislation, which will give interest-free loans to poor urban women through self-help groups. The women will use this amount to finance petty businesses run by their husbands.
Rahul is not depending on the government to win. His team has fixed a target of winning more than 175 seats so that it can attract more allies. Since it’s reconciled to the huge losses it could suffer in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Punjab, West Bengal and Rajasthan, Team Rahul has undertaken a vigorous check on all future candidates. Over 600 observers have visited all constituencies. Barring peer pressure and emotional compulsions, all those who lost the election twice will be denied tickets. Those whose margin of victory has been declining will also face the axe. Those who have been charge-sheeted will not be even considered. For Rahul, winnnability and not connectivity will be the essential qualification to get a Congress nomination. States like Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have been chosen as hunting grounds to win more seats through this experiment with new social engineering. Rahul’s sleuths have already gathered data of over 1,000 potential candidates with the help of faithful aides and government agencies. The Congress hopes to finalise the names of over 300 candidates by August and will intimate each individually. The Rahul-led Congress is rearing to go, not with any coloured ideological weaponry but with a brigade of new faces, which will reflect the united colours of both Bharat and India. Having been let down by his own party in his much-hyped forays into Bihar, Gujarat and UP, Rahul’s new experiment with the heat and dust of India’s political sand dunes has just begun.
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