True to type, Congress president Ms. Sonia Gandhi avoided responsibility for the party'sinadequate performance in the Assembly elections in Punjab, Uttarakhand, and even Manipur, where it is leading a motley coalition. That the party performed so poorly even after the UPA government manfully concealed information about the arrest of Bofors kickbacks accused Ottavio Quattrocchi in Argentina on February 6 only highlights the awareness of the impact this could have on an already declining party, and Ms. Gandhi'sabsolute reluctance to take the rap for her own sins of omission and commission.
That is why, when she addressed the Congress Parliamentary Party nearly ten days after the news of the arrest broke out, Ms. Sonia Gandhi carefully avoided mentioning Mr. Quattrocchi and the parliamentary hiatus caused by news of his arrest and release on bail, and India'sslow-moving efforts to have him extradited. To mention a fellow countryman would mean having to explain a long personal association which brought rich dividends to him and his employers over many decades, and opening herself to questions about similar unknown associations.
It would also necessitate answering uncomfortable queries, such as whether or not Ms. Gandhi and/or any member of her family met Mr. Quattrochi'sson during the course of the Italian Prime Minister'sunduly long visit to this country, which otherwise yielded nothing of diplomatic significance. It would necessitate answering Dr. Subramaniam Swamy'sspecific allegation that the Italian Prime Minister had been requested to intercede and ensure that Mr. Quattrocchi was not extradited to this country.
Imagine Mr. Quattrocchi in Tihar Jail telling journalists that he expected his old friends and countrymen to visit him in jail! I imagine therefore that the return of Mr. Quattrocchi will remain in the realm of wishful thinking. This may explain the sudden defiance of Mr. Quattrocchi and his lawyer'sstatement that they will sue the CBI and Interpol for breach of his so-called human rights under international law (whatever that means).
Be that as it may be, it was unfair of Sonia Gandhi to blame the Congress? poor performance on the party alone, when the organisation has repeatedly been made to bear the brunt of individuals who put personal ambition above party interest. She has also indirectly blamed the UPA government by mentioning ?objective factors? like the price rise, when Finance Minister P. Chidambaram is her prot?g?.
Ms. Gandhi has refused to look at the larger consequences of the government'seconomic policies upon the common man, mouthing the old rhetoric about putting the economy on a ?higher growth path? and improving the investment climate. The fact of the matter is that nothing has been done to ensure that the benefits of growth percolate to the lower levels of society, and only high finance has been catered to at both the national and international levels. The Haryana Government'sSpecial Economic Zone deal with Reliance Industries was personally approved by Ms. Gandhi, and the MP Kuldip Singh Bishnoi who protested against this crony capitalism given a show cause notice. This put all Congress and even CPM governments on a SEZ spree, until public protests brought a sudden end to the honeymoon. Typically, Ms. Gandhi then had amnesia and went for a volte face against the SEZ policy of the UPA.
Sonia Gandhi is however, extremely apprehensive of the forthcoming UP Assembly polls, where her own and son Rahul Gandhi'spersonal and political charisma will be put to the acid test. Though congress spin doctors have already started distancing the Amethi MP from the expected debacle, the fact is that months of spade work with the media have already projected him as the new political whiz kid on the block. His computer is said to have the political biographies of all state stalwarts, and he has already put off many leaders by telling them to contest the State elections and face certain defeat. This cannot endear Rahul Gandhi to the state congress, and the internal script for a rout may already have been written as punishment for such arrogance.
This in turn will further tilt the Electoral College for the Presidential elections against the Congress. Even a resurgent Congress today could never hope to get even one-fourth of the 403 seats in UP. As of now, however, the party'sown speculation is whether or not it can touch even the double-digit figure, and as Ms. Gandhi gave the credit for the sweeping victory in the Rai Bareilly re-election to son Rahul, the party will naturally expect the duo to deliver on a much larger canvas. Control over just one or two pocket boroughs do not translate into national leadership, much less to claims of Prime Ministership, and UP is likely to draw this lesson home to both mother and son when the first phase of elections begins on April 7. It looks like autumn has set in for the Congress matriarch.