<b>Time for all parties to re-invent themselves</b>

Time for all parties to re-invent themselves

MV Kamath

undefinedOne climbs Mount Everest only once. Attempting to climb it for a second time serves only to demystify one’s earlier achievement. APJ Kalam had been elected to the Indian Presidency in 2002 and, to the surprise of many, distinguished himself. He had not sought office. The office sought him. To ask him to stand for election again, especially when the chances were he would be effectively defeated was a thoughtless way of undoing his well-earned past reputation.

The BJP should have understood it. Happily Kalam saved himself from that folly. But then there is the larger question: Is this country with a population of 1.2 billion so low in talent that one has to seek Dr Kalam’s consent for nomination to the presidentship for a second term? That, one would think, amounts to an insult to the whole country. A couple of scores of names of people come easily to mind who could lend prestige to the post, coming s they do from various fields such as industry, law, academics and management and a whole lot of other prestigious professions.

After all, how well-known was Pratibha Patil when she was handpicked by Sonia Gandhi? What was her standing then? Serious charges of corruption has been made against her, which were later pushed under the carpet. Our politicians seem incapable of looking beyond their noses. So we have to witness the pathetic behaviour of a Mamata Bannerjee and the somersaults of Mulayam Singh Yadav. Sangma thinks he deserves recognition because he represents tribal India. As in the Sangma case, so in the larger context of elections whether to Parliament or to Legislative Assemblies what seems to matter most in one’s caste, creed or religion, not one’s suitability to a job. And this has affected all parties.

When Narendra Modi said that Bihar politics was largely caste-based, a very upset Nitish Kumar told the BJP leader to mind his own business. No one wants to hear the truth. But the harsh fact is that if India is to be run effectively caste or ethnic-centred regional parties have to be pushed aside but that can only happen if India’s leading political parties forsake casteism as a vote-catching mechanism. The tendency towards caste-based politics gathered momentum as Congress began to lose its heritage. Once a truly national party with a broad vision, it is now a shadow of its old self, sans power, sans vision, a victim of its own weakness. If it wants to survive, it has to re-invent itself which it seems incapable of doing. Self-centred regional parties, in the circumstances, are making hay while the country is sliding down. It is the nation that is paying for all this.

The coalition in power has little to show. The record of the Congress itself is getting murkier and murkier. Consider the following: Rich overseas entities, investing in the Indian market through Participatory Notes, are estimated to have pulled out over Rs 1 lakh crore (over $ 20 billion) in less than three months on fears of getting caught in the government’s taxation net as envisaged in Pranab Mukherjee’s budget. According to the Apparel Exports Promotion Council (AEPC), about 45 lakh people in the Textile Sector have lost jobs in the last two years, mainly due to global economic slowdown and problems at domestic front and it is expected that job-losses will continue for some more length of time.

In Andhra Pradesh, the Congress which once ruled the roost has been beaten by the YSR Congress which has literally thrown the Indian National Congress, the parent body, into oblivion. Jaganmohan Reddy, head of the YSR Congress had been arrested by the CBI in a disproportionate asset case. One would have expected the public to react strongly against the YSR Congress. What had happened is nothing short of eerie. In a “sympathy wave” the people have voted for Jaganmohan with his party winning 15 out of the 18 Assembly seats as well as the lone Lok Sabha seat. What does that convey? That corruption is no longer a crime? It is said that when Jaganmohan’s father J.Y. Rajasekhar Reddy was alive and heading the government, no Congress leader, including Sonia Gandhi herself, could dictate to him and that it was he who contributed over 30 per cent of the party’s national election fund, money, it is now charged, collected through dubious means. Today Sonia Gandhi has lost all  standing in Andhra Pradesh. Uttar Pradesh, of course, is beyond her control. She can only listen to Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s wail as he charges former Chief Minister Mayavati of being involved in scams worth over Rs 40,000 crores! The BSP government, besides, had spent upward of Rs 86.56 crore on the construction and renovation of Mayavati’s bungalow in Lucknow. The money had never been audited. No one dare challenge Mayavati, who goes scot free.

Lacking any ideology, Congress can only try to seek minority votes through such cheap tricks as seeking 4.5 per cent of the 27 per cent quota for OBCs to Muslim OBCs. The Supreme Court has given a verdict against it and it is a slap in the face of the Congress. How long can this continue? What all this suggests is that the Congress as it is, is on its last legs. If it fails to re-invent itself, it can only perish. That can be no consolation to India which is a democracy and under which it is necessary to have two strong parties in the political field to give people a choice. Coalition governments cannot provide good government as has been so noticeable in recent times. And what is true of the Congress is applicable to the BJP as well.

To be taken seriously, a party must have a clear vision, a specific ideology by which one stands or falls. And just as importantly, it must be seen as a united organisation that speaks in one voice. Can one say that of today’s BJP? What has been painfully evident is a clash of personalities and a conflict of interests, that have caused distress among BJP supporters. This situation has to be quickly attended to, not just in the BJP’s own interests – important as they are – but in the larger interests of the country. In other words, the time has come also for the BJP to re-invent itself and for its leader and leaders to start touring India extensively to be seen, heard, understood and admired, in the weeks and months to come. Who knows but that circumstances may force UPA to call for mid-term elections?

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