September 29, 2013

THE FALL OF THE TRIUMVIRATE


CAN MANMOHAN SINGH SURVIVE THE RAGA ASSAULT?


Source: NDTV

In May 2004, as the UPA romped home to a surprise victory by decimating the NDA, Sonia Gandhi - the real architect of this spectacular win refused to accept the PM's post, citing her 'inner voice'. Inspite of repeated attempts to convince her by party colleagues and alliance partners, she refused to budge and hand picked an old time loyalist - Rajya Sabha MP & former Finance Minister Manmohan Singh for the top job. One of the country's best economist, Singh had presented the 1991 budget which opened our economy to foreign brands which is one of the reasons that we are the second fastest growing economy in the world today. Sonia's position was given legitimacy by appointing her as the chief of the National Advisory Council - an institute constituted by the UPA to advise the cabinet on issues concerning the Aam Aadmi. In 2006 the heir apparent Rahul Gandhi was brought into the spot light; back then, he spoke about bringing democracy in a dynasty-based party and reviving its fortunes in states like UP and Bihar. Though the Opposition accused Sonia of remote controlling the government and preparing the ground for Baba to take over, the arrangement worked well for the Congress as it managed to complete its full term despite of regular 'black-mailing' by the Left parties. Like the successful yet controversial Triumvirate of the Roman Republic - an alliance between the great general Pompey, the super rich Cranius and the master politician Julius Caesar to tide over the crisis facing them about two millennia ago, the trioka of Sonia, Singh and Rahul led the UPA to a second consecutive win, even bettering their previous record by a good margin in the 2009 Lok Sabha.

In the period between 2004 to 2010, this was the most dominant force in Indian politics. After publicly renouncing the PM's chair and taking the moral high ground on various issues, Sonia Gandhi's stature grew exponentially, making her, arguably the most popular neta in our country. Manmohan's strong stand on the Indo-US nuclear deal and his 'Mr. Clean' image won his the admiration of the masses, making him the first PM after Nehru to win successive terms. The young and energetic Rahul Baba brought about new ideas; he promised to revamp the party structure and introduce certain measures to revitalize it. His entry into active politics was heralded by Congressmen as a new era in our Rajneeti. Sadly for the three, things started going downhill after the UPA in its second innings was rocked by a series of corruption scandals, some of which like the 2G and Coalgate scams completely tarnished the PM's image. Considering that Mrs. Gandhi still is her party's biggest vote catcher, her health concerns is another big blow. Though she has regularly defended the government in the Lower House, it seems that her health will not permit her to devote much time for political campaigning in the coming years. And Rahul Gandhi has, to a large extent, become a big liability for the Congress. On numerous occasions like the recently concluded Uttar Pradesh elections where he tore the Samajwadi manifesto while addressing an election rally, his words and antics have become a 'hot potato' for the Congress and its supporters. Faced with a formidable challenge posed by a resurgent BJP led by the Gujarat CM Narendra Modi, the top brass of the UPA is feeling the heat. While reports suggesting differences between the Gandhis and Singh have been doing the rounds for some time, the latter tried to prove otherwise by claiming that he would be happy to work under Rahul. However, the junior Gandhi's scathing attack on the Manmohan cabinet for taking the ordinance route to over rule a SC judgement regarding the disqualification of convicted politicians has, perhaps signaled the end of this partnership.

For PM Singh, this brazen attack, especially the strong language used by Rahul in the press conference, could not have come at a worst time. Facing a credibility crisis, the UPA II is surviving on the blessings of the Samajwadi supremo Mulayum Singh Yadav. While Manmohan has been open of his wholehearted support to the candidature of the heir apparent in case a third Congress led regime comes to power, the harsh criticism from the party VP, at a time when he was on an official tour of the US, has for sure, deeply hurt him. As if the crown prince's wrath was not enough, the manner in which both, his party men and cabinet colleagues came out in open support of Baba has completed isolated him. While the party was consulted prior to issuing the ordinance, the perception that has come out now is that it was the PM who wanted to suppress the SC judgement. With the public opinion being strongly in favour of the ruling, his popularity will take a severe beating in the coming days. Though he tried to play down the incident, hailing it as just another part of our democracy where differences of opinion is normal, it is a death blow to the political career of the third longest surviving PM in our history. Instead of helping him and his government put up a formidable fight against Modi, Rahul's washing of dirty linen in public will only give more ammunition to the Opposition camp. The government is in a catch 22 situation now. Not withdrawing the ordinance will be seen as defying the Gandhis, whose every word is nothing less than holy gospel in the INC. On the other hand, considering that many of the existing and prospective allies want him to save their convicted leaders from disqualification, scrapping of the ordinance is easier said than done. While Manmohan Singh has been clear that this will be his last term in the office, this fiasco has only confirmed his retirement sooner than expected.

Many believe that this episode might be an attempt by the junior Gandhi and his party to steal the thunder out of BJP's 'relentless' campaign against the ordinance. Though, the saffron outfit is said to have been with the government during the all party meeting to discuss the future course of action following the SC's verdict, the principal opposition took an aggressive stand, probably after seeing that the mood on the streets was against the ordinance. Apart from lashing out at the government, a delegation of BJP leaders went to meet the President, asking him to reject the ordinance when it would be sent to him for his consent. Forget the BJP, it would not be surprising for a strong President like Pranad Mukherjee to reject the ordinance. This would certainly be an embarrassment for the ruling regime. Meanwhile, at first, the Congress tried to vociferously defend the decision, accusing the Opposition of going back on its word for political gains. Realizing that mood in the country was heavily inclined towards the historic verdict, it seems that Rahul's public outburst was to take all attention away from the BJP's anti-ordinance stance. However, the main question is - What was the so-called 'PM-in-waiting' doing so long? Was he not consulted when the Congress was deliberating on the issue or is the Rahul vs Manmohan war just a drama by their party to do damage control and enhance the former's stature? You never know...

The public outburst might just be another of Baba's innumerable attempts to re-invent himself in national politics and strike a chord with the masses. In 2009, while talking about the plight of farmers in the country, the young Gandhi scion had spoken about Kalavati - a widow from the drought prone Vidarbha region of Maharashtra who came to symbolize the sorry plight of our agarian community. While the INC has been in power for all this long in New Delhi and in Mumbai, Kalavati's condition has only worsened; one of her daughter and a son-in-law have also committed suicide due to the unending cycle of poverty. In the following year, he was given the charge of the party in Bihar, a state wherein his party had been reduced to single digits in the last election. Unfortunately, the Congress was routed again; losing nearly 50% of the seats to end on a final tally of four. In 2012, Rahul took up the cause of people protesting against the then Mayawati government's forceful acquisition of land in the Bhatta Parsaul village in UP. On a visit there, following reports of violence, he accused the administration of killing innocent villagers, burning their bodies and raping their women. However, these claims were never proven, leaving the leader and his party men red-faced. The disaster in the UP polls, especially at a time when another young leader - Akilesh Yadav managed to take the Samajwadi Party well above the half way mark was, yet another chapter in the long list of RaGa's debacles. The problem with Gandhi seems to be that he still hasn't made up his mind on what his role will be in the coming months. He is still reluctant to take that plunge into 'active' politics, he rarely speaks to the media and his views on several issues are unclear. Besides, he lacks the vision of Nehru, the leadership qualities of Indira and the decision-making ability of his uncle Sanjay. Rahul Gandhi has to realize that he has to do a lot more than simply criticizing the government if he has to tackle the NaMo bandwagon. Taking a cue from his mother, he has to find ways of connecting with the people - a trait that the premiere dynasty of our politics has always been known for, so as to help the Congress do well in 2014.

For more on the 2014 General Elections
(1) The Double Edged Sword (Link)
(2) Reading Between the Lines (Link)
(3) An Ally in Need is an Ally Indeed (Link)


IMAGES

(1) Original: Rahul Gandhi leads Congress' charge at mega rally; backs Government on reforms
Source: NDTV (Link)