The Congress-led UPA government has completed two years in power without much to show. And even if it has any, it has maintained a low profile in order not to offend national feelings, no doubt having learnt a lesson from the NDA's fate following the ?Shining India? campaign it led at the general elections held two years ago.
Sometimes, it is wise to be complacent. But the manner in which medical students throughout the country?and their supporters?have hit back against the UPA government'smove to reserve quotas for the SC/ST/OBC at a higher level and the precipitous fall of Sensex in seven days flat must have sounded a warning to Congress that it had better walk warily. Besides, surely, it must have taken a look at the poll conducted by India Today (May 29) which showed that of the 39 ministers in the UPA Cabinet, 22 failed to muster a minimum score of even 35 with the majority of failures coming from the Congress.
?The UPA government? India Today noted, ?is retarded by non-performers and while ministers from allies have delivered, Congress Ministers are trapped between national imperatives and ballot politics.? And then there is the Hindustan Times-C-fore survey results (May 21) which show that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh'sown ratings are down, not to a significant extent, but enough to sound a warning. The recently held elections to four State Legislative Assemblies (Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal) and to one tiny Union Territory (Pondicherry) indeed must have shaken up the Congress.
In Kerala, the victory of a communist-led coalition was no surprise. Kerala seems to revel in voting in alternate political formations. It is a fact that since 1980 power has alternated between the Left Front the Congress-led United Democratic Front and the 2006 elections have been no surprise.
In West Bengal, the CPM-led Left Front has again been elected with an even larger majority than in the past but this, too, was only to be expected for three sound reasons: One, Opposition has stayed disunited; two, the CPM is a cadre-based party and the land reforms that were introduced when first the communists came to power continue to pay them rich dividends. But it is the reforms on the ideological front introduced by Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharjee that have apparently won the hearts of the urban middle class. That Ratan Tata should agree to set up an automobile factory in West Bengal when, for years, no industrialist was willing to set up even a shoe-shop in Kolkata, is indicative of a changing scene.
In Tamil Nadu, J.Jayalalithaa got what she deserved. She had alienated the entire Brahmin caste by the way she treated one of the most highly-respected Hindu religious seers and no tears have been shed when she got the order of the boots. But what is relevant is that the Congress on its own has little to cheer. Sonia Gandhi victory in the Rae Bareilly constituency in the bye-election had been a foregone conclusion?Rae Bareilly is for all purposes a family borough, even if the media made much of son Rahul'salleged electioneering talents. Which leads one to the next question: What is the likely chance for the Congress to win the next elections three years hence?
It needs to be acknowledged that the Congress today is no better placed than the BJP; in fact, the death of Pramod Mahajan notwithstanding, the BJP has a stronger second generation leadership to depend on. The Congress, needless to say, is banking on Rahul Gandhi whose pictures, along with that of his sister Priyanka regularly make the front pages of a sycophantic media.
Should a Congress-led UPA make the grade again, it is unlikely that Dr Manmohan Singh will be displaced. Rahul will have to put in his apprenticeship starting with a Ministership of State. After all, Indira Gandhi started as Information & Broadcasting Minister and would probably have taken her own time to rise any higher had Lal Bahadur Shastri live.
For the time being, Dr Manmohan Singh is technically superior as a Prime Minister to all others around him. He has been so many things: a D.Phil from Oxford, a bureaucrat at UNCTAD (UN Conference on Trade and Development), a Professor of International Trade at the Delhi School of Economics, a Chief Economic Adviser, a Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, a Governor of the Reserve Bank, a head of the Planning Commission and, under the Prime Ministership of Narasimha Rao, a Finance Minister in his own right. No Prime Minister before him could claim to such high academic and professional qualification and Rahul Gandhi, in the circumstances, will have to go a long way before aspiring to the Prime Ministership. But, of course, anything can happen.
If Indira Gandhi had not been assassinated Rajiv Gandhi whose sole qualification to Prime Minster was piloting a plane, would have probably ended up as piloting the latest Boeing. The fate had its own agenda for him. Much, of course, will depend upon how politics will shape in the next twenty four months.
The BJP has not much to despair. True, Atal Behari Vajpayee is out?he has said that he will not even stand for elections?and while L.K.Advani will still be around, he will have the support of a strong cadre of capable second-rand leaders of considerable distinction, like Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley. And what would be the Unique Selling Proposition (USP) of the Congress? Heredity? Dynastic succession? All the old gimmicks have been tried out by the Congress like establishing a socialistic pattern of society, Garibi hatao, nationalisation of banks, establishment of Public Sector Units, etc. Such dams as were needed to be built have been already built. Secularism has become a dirty word.
If Congress has to come back it will need the support of a whole lot of small, regional parties like the DMK. And an entirely new approach to politics that sounds attractive to the next generation. And what is true of the Congress is also true of the BJP as well though it may have a slight upper edge. What is relevant to note is that the next three years will be very crucial and both the Congress and the BJP will have to hone their skills and sharpen their swords for the final kill. And let it also be remembered that waiting in the wings is a man like Narendra Modi whose fantastic organisational skills surely will be very much in demand.
To sum it all: the next thirty six months will be crucial to India and so it must be seen by all parties but more especially by tallest two among them all, the Congress and the BJP. On their wisdom lies India'sfuture growth and salvation.