On June 1, 2008 there appeared a full page advertisement in many dailies in stunning colour. Within 30 days, the advertisement said, 4,30,00,000 farmers will get debt waiver or debt relief for over Rs 71,000 crore. The advertisement issued by none other then the Ministry of Finance further said that ?small and marginal farmers (cultivating upto 5 acres of land) and other farmers (cultivating more than 5 acres) will be entitled to relief in accordance with the Scheme announced by the Central Government?.
All that they had to do was to go to the branch of the bank that gave them the loan. If their name was in the list of beneficiaries, they would be entitled to relief. Evidently, the Congress Party is getting into high gear to fight the coming general elections which, considering the Congress-Left clash over the Nuclear Deal, could be well ahead of the scheduled date in May 2009. The loan for farmers was originally announced by the Finance Ministry while the annual budget was being laid down, in Parliament. The Assembly elections in Karnataka since then must have gravely shocked the Congress. It may be remembered that the loan waiver was included in the budget practically at the last minute, on the urgent advice of Sonia Gandhi.
The question uppermost in many minds these days is: Will the loan waiver really do much for the Congress to win back the vote of the farmers? Many doubt it. The argument is that, in the first place, the loan waiver has come a little too late. Upward of 40,000 farmers have committed suicide in the decade between 1997 and 2007. And just in Vidharbha, 287 farmers have taken their lives in the first quarter of 2008, despite the governments? announcement of the loan waiver. What else could there be to damn the Congress and the UPA? A recent media report specifically pointed out that in the past three years, foodgrains worth Rs 31,500 crore had been siphoned off the Public Distribution System (PDS) which, in plain words, meant that people living below the poverty line had been cheated of 53 per cent of the wheat and 39 per cent of the rice that the state had procured for them. The PDS had, for all practical purpose, become a state-sponsored largesse for blackmarketeers, including corrupt babus, ration shop owners and a set of middle men. Are the poor and the deprived going to take this lightly?
On March 31, 2008, a nation-wide poll conducted by a credible agency, the TSI-ICMR-C noted that if elections were then held, the nation would be in for another fragmented mandate, while another poll commissioned by the Congress itself on a confidential basis showed that were elections held at that point in time, it would win between 90 to 120 Lok Sabha seats, while the BJP may fare a little better by winning between 130 to 170 seats. Will the economic scene change so positively between now and, say, November, to give the Congress an edge over the BJP? According to the TSI-ICMR-C poll, not the Leftist parties but The Bahujan Samaj Party will become the King Maker. If the Congress opts to fall at Mayavati'sfeet to stay in power, it will be a case of jumping from the frying pan to the fire.
Presently, it is seeking to make peace with the most unprincipled of all parties, the Janata Dal(S). In these last four years it has been living on the goodwill of the Leftists who have treated it cruelly and shabbily. With the Congress-Left break-up, who will benefit? Evidently the Congress has no principles worth talking about. And associating itself with the JD(S) is bound to further decrease its credibility with the voter. Sleeping with one'senemy is not a wise way to spend an electoral night. What are the factors that may, in the end, decide Congress destiny? Inflation, for one. What is the guarantee that it will not rise to two figures, say, by November? Won'tit hurt Congress badly? Then there is the issue of lack of leadership. Poor Dr Manmohan Singh. If rumors afloat have any truth, he has been plainly told by Sonia Gandhi that if elected to power, the party will not give him a second term as Prime Minister. Then who will the Congress present as its candidate to that chair? Rahul Gandhi?
At electioneering, he failed to make the grade both in Gujarat and Karnataka. As one columnist noted, he looked less like a political scion than a goofy NRI. And if the Congress seeks to come to power by hook or by crook, will Mayavati be happy being an innocent by-stander? For all one knows, she may herself wish to be a contender to the Prime Ministerial gaddi. And that will be the end of Sonia Gandhi'spolitical hegemony. All this, of course, presuming that the BJP will not astonish all pollsters by getting voted in by a majority, especially in the context of the Congress-Left rift. That is perfectly possible, considering the BJP'sknown record for the last twelve months. As one newspaper put it smartly, grit and tenacity are encrypted in the BJP'sDNA. It is on a winning streak in both state assembly and by-elections and it has transformed itself from a bitterly divided house to a party united by a common mission. As one political commentator noted recently, a miracle alone can save Sonia. Miracles, alas! are rare these days.
The recently announced pay hike hasn'tsatisfied many segments of society either, and that is another issue Congress has to face. The sad truth is that, as Lord Meghnad Desai recently put it, the Congress has no clear-cut ideology or policy and is singularly bereft of ideas. No vision for the future, in fact. And where there is no vision, political parties, like people, perish. For sixty years since Independence, Congress played with secularism and sought to purchase the Muslim vote by blandly pandering to Muslim communalism. The Muslims have now learnt their lesson. They are now leaning on Mayavati, who is giving them their self-respect. They don'twant to be treated as hostages to mullahs. They want to retrieve their self-respect by declining Congress patronage and be on their own. Where Muslims and dalits are concerned, Congress is totally at sea.
For all one knows, the Congress, presently is on its last legs. One can foresee its demise because it has almost become inevitable, pre-ordained. For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the sun. That'swhat the Bible says and Sonia Gandhi, no doubt, has read it. In the years immediately following independence and for a couple of decades afterward, the party held the Indian heart; now the purse is holding the party which is a sure sign of decadence?and ultimate death. And with the party'sloss, it will be time for Sonia to take vanavas and for dynasticism to be given a decent burial.