The myth is being subtly passed around that the Congress, under Sonia Gandhi, has been given a mandate to rule the country. That, indeed, is what the fates have ordered. Take, for example, what H.Y. Sharada Prasad, a former press advisor to Indira Gandhi and a confirmed Nehru-ite has to say. ?Look at the paradox,? he wrote recently for a national paper, ?Sonia Gandhi'sforeign origin is seized upon by the BJP and elevated into a principal issue in the election. The voters reject the argument and give their mandate to the Congress.? Oh really? In what way have the vast majority of people given the Congress any mandate? The people have done anything else but.
The point was well made by a former Governor of Tamil Nadu and later of Maharashtra, Dr P.C. Alexander, who is now a member of the Rajya Sabha, in his own column. He pointed out that there are two main criteria, of mandate: one, the adequacy of the number of seats received by a political party or an alliance and two, the endorsement of the party'sor alliance'sagenda by the electorate. ?Applying these criteria, no party or alliance in Election 2004 can be said to have received the mandate for governance,? said Dr Alexander. Quoting facts and figures, the ex-Governor noted that the claim of the Congress Party and its allies to the effect that the electors have given the Congress-led alliance the mandate to govern the country was plain ?untenable?. He said that in six states, namely Madhya Pradesh where it got two seats out of twenty (2/20), Rajasthan (4/25), Chhattisgarh (1/11), Bihar (3/40), Punjab (2/13), and Orissa (2/21), the Congress share was ?miserably low? and in three large states, namely Karnataka (28 seats), Uttar Pradesh (80 seats) and West Bengal (42 seats), the Congress share was below 10 seats, each.
Equally important to note was the fact that in some states where the Congress had been the ruling party, namely, Karnataka, Punjab and Uttaranchal, the Congress performance was ?dismal?. The worst case was that of Kerala where the Congress experienced the ?humiliation of a total whitewash?. So who is fooling whom? Commented Dr Alexander: ?It would be wrong on the part of the Congress and its allies to think they are forming the government because they have the mandate of the people to do so.?
The hypocrisy of the Congress was further exposed by Ashok Mitra in another national paper. The Congress, wrote Mr Mitra, ?has, in fact, polled this time 26 per cent of the total votes cast, which is even 2 per cent less than what it obtained in 1999?. Dr Alexander has a different set of figures. According to him the NDA received 35.30 per cent of the vote share while the Congress and its allies received 35.19 per cent, showing thereby, in terms of alliances, the NDA actually scored more than the Congress and its alliance. For all the big talk about Sonia Gandhi'sefforts to win the elections, the truth remains that all those efforts just did not get Congress more votes than ever in the past; actually the Congress got less! In terms of even seats fought and won, percentage-wise the NDA won more seats than the Congress and its alliance.
And consider what the London-based The Economist (May 22) has to say. Its report on the Indian elections 2004 says: ?(Sonia Gandhi?s) party mandate in the election was hardly a clear-cut endorsement either of its policies or its leader. Congress gained just under 27 per cent of the national vote, about 1.5 per cent points less than in the last election in 1999.? In other words, whether the Congress leader was Sonia Gandhi or someone else, there will always be a hard-core Congress vote share that none can touch, which is no credit to Sonia Gandhi. This is not to minimise the efforts put in by Mrs Gandhi, but merley to emphasise that they did not make any sensational difference to voter preference. There was nothing great about her performance. Any leader who headed the Congress would perforce have been compelled to make the country'srounds to make the party'spresence felt.
That there was no one else in the party capable of rousing public support is another matter. What does not speak too well about the government presently formed is its character?or lack of it. Tainted figures have been included in the cabinet. The best-known example of charge-sheeted ministers is Laloo Prasad Yadav, charged in seven counts in the fodder scam case. Laloo has bagged a prize ministry?Railways by what many believe is sheer political blackmail. Laloo Prasad is alleged to have defrauded the Bihar state exchequer of Rs 1,400 crore. One can compare that with the Bofors case to realise the magnitude of the charge. He leads as many as eight RJD ministers in the Manmohan Singh Cabinet among whom four have pending criminal cases against them. It is well to remember that among the Laloo loyalists is one Mohammad Taslimuddin, who had a dozen or so criminal cases against him including kidnapping, rioting and raping a minor girl. As one national paper noted: ?He appears to have committed virtually every misdemeanour in the violent crime book.?
Granted that framing false charges against politicians is fair game in Bihar, wouldn'tit have been wiser on the part of Manmohan Singh or Sonia Gandhi to stand up to Laloo Prasad'sunholy pressures? Other tainted figures include Jay Prakash Narayan Yadav, who had to go to jail after being Education Minister of Bihar, due to involvement in a scam for award of fake B.Ed. degrees. Laloo Prasad Yadav himself is on bail. What respect can any decent citizen have for these ministers and for the Manmohan Singh cabinet itself? Shouldn'tthis matter be taken up by the Supreme Court on a suo moto basis?
The general excuse put forward is that these people have not yet been tried in a court of law and that a man is innocent until proved guilty after a fair trial. That sounds reasonable enough. But then shouldn'tthe government have sought a speedy trial of its ministerial candidates so that their names are cleared and all doubts about their character are cleared? Everyone is so quick to give Narendra Modi a bad name even without a specific case made against him. Is there one set of laws for the BJP and another for Congress allies?
The Statesman (May 25), a highly respected Kolkata paper, says: ?Dr Singh has acquired three ministers with whom the law may catch up?Yadav, Taslimuddin and Shibu Soren. Have he and his party president figured out what they will do if that happens?? The Congress will, no doubt, say that it will cross that particular bridge when it comes close to it. Such an answer does not wash. But perhaps the Congress couldn'tcare less for moral values. The inference is that those in power are not answerable to anyone. But then their leaders should not entertain pretensions to sainthood.