Raising Resignation Pitch is Congress' Grand Strategy to Put NaMo on Backfoot
Predictability and politics aren’t made for each other. As consistency and conviction are no longer the virtues of political parties, leaders can swing elliptically exaggerated U-turns even wider than the letter’s shape permits. Of late, the netas have become surprisingly predictable. They have begun, at the drop of a topi, to demand the resignations or dismissal of ministers, both at the Centre and in the states. Since extravagant accusations against ruling party members as “tainted” or “corrupt” pay rich electoral dividends, all political parties have made “resign” or “sack” an integral part of their semantic strategy to stymie their opponents. From West Bengal to Kerala, with the Central government caught in the middle, the cacophonic chant of “Resign, Resign, Resign” is resounding over the political terrain. The BJP seeks the dismissal of West Bengal ministers. The TMC hits back by asking NDA ministers to quit. If Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal demands the sacking of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, the BJP counters by importuning him to remove AAP ministers. When the BJP seeks the head of Himachal Pradesh CM for alleged corruption, the Congress mounts pressure in New Delhi asking the PM to show the door to some of his colleagues. New age politicians are replacing the art of ideological confrontation with the dogma of demolition of individual reputations.
Last week, the Congress led the charge, demanding the resignations of Union ministers Smriti Irani and Bandaru Dattatreya, alleging interference in the University of Hyderabad’s internal affairs, which led to the suicide of Dalit PhD scholar Rohith Vemula. Rahul Gandhi cancelled all his appointments in the capital and grabbed a boarding pass to Hyderabad. His party organised nationwide protests against Irani and Dattatreya. Kejriwal followed, taking his political carbon footprint all the way to the south to express solidarity with Dalit student protesters. He even supported his arch-enemy, the Congress’s demand for the removal of the Union ministers. Even the normally reticent Tripura CM Manik Sarkar took a plane to Hyderabad. Almost all the non-BJP parties, from the Trinamool Congress to Janata Dal, tried to mount pressure on Modi to drop them. Even after a week since Vemula’s suicide, the Congress kept its foot on the gas, parroting its dismissal demand. According to Congress watchers, the party will use the ‘politically and socially unacceptable’ conduct of Irani and Dattatreya as an issue to neutralise PM Modi’s charisma and paint the BJP as anti-Dalit. The Congress has realised that Vemula’s death has provided a platform for its political reincarnation by providing leadership to unite non-BJP parties by using “Dalit oppression” as a weapon. The party has instructed all its state units and frontal organisations to organise protest meetings and display pictures of Irani as an anti-Dalit leader of the BJP. Its strategy is to focus on demanding her resignation, and preventing the debate from revolving around the merit of the case and the circumstances which led to Vemula’s death.
Buoyed by electoral successes in Bihar and local elections in other parts of the country, the Congress has tasted blood. For the past 12 months, it has never let go of an opportunity to demand the resignation of some BJP minister or chief minister. Last year, the Congress didn’t allow Parliament to conduct business, demanding that Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan should step down over the Vyapam scam. They paralysed the House by seeking the ouster of Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj for their association with IPL founder Lalit Modi. Earlier, the Congress had vociferously targeted Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari for his alleged controversial business and corporate deals. At the end of the last session, the Congress-AAP combine chose Jaitley as its prime target, seeking his removal.
The Congress can’t be blamed entirely for whipping up the resignation hysteria. It borrowed the “ask-for-resignation” astra from the BJP’s quiver. In addition to Modi’s powerful personality, the BJP could trounce the Congress in 2014 because of its success in sticking the corruption tag on the Congress’s dirty laundry. For almost three years before the previous Lok Sabha polls, the BJP continued to find enough ammunition to demand the resignation of at least one Central minister in every session of Parliament. Union Minister A Raja was removed after investigating agencies found his culpability in corruption. Many other Central ministers and Maharashra CM Ashok Chavan had to pack up because of their objectionable official conduct.
The resignation spree’s origins are in the UPA I era, during which the BJP was able to extract Foreign Minister Natwar Singh’s resignation, after a UN panel report made adverse comments against him. During 2009-14, Law Minister Ashwani Kumar, Railway Minister Pawan Bansal, Tourism Minister Subodh Kant Sahai and the Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor were forced to resign under BJP pressure and media exposes on their inappropriate actions as ministers. The BJP went to the extent of demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Most of these mantris, however, have so far not faced criminal charges or been convicted. Yet by repeatedly raising the resignation slogan, the BJP successfully strengthened the general public perception that the UPA government was poxed with corruption. A series of CAG reports coupled with the CWG and coal scams bolstered the credibility of the BJP’s sustained resignation warfare against the Congress.
The Congress is now paying the BJP back in the same coin. In the 1980s and 90s, it lost two elections because of the clamour generated by the Opposition, demanding the resignations of Cabinet ministers, as well as Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s, alleging corruption and non-performance. Incidentally, during UPA II’s ramshackle regime, the ‘Quit Government’ chorus began a couple of years before the parliamentary elections were due, either in important states or for the Lok Sabha. The main winner, then, was the BJP. By 2019, when the next general elections are due, over a dozen state Assemblies would have gone to polls and thrown up varying results. The Congress strategy is loud and clear. By continuously vociferating for the resignations of BJP chief ministers, Union ministers and even the Prime Minister, it hopes that by 2019, the energy of the ruling party and its most popular leader will be so hobbled that they will not be able to seize a second mandate.
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