FINALLY, Indian democracy is of the family, by the family, for the family.
It took almost a fortnight for the new Manmohan Singh government to take shape. It is a cabinet of continuity, Congress overconfidence, domineering ambitions and perhaps nothing else. There is no visible newness in the second Manmohan cabinet. Yes, there are 29 new faces with familiar surnames, mostly at the junior level, in the jumbo cabinet. Almost every second Congress MP is a minister. This will certainly satiate the Congressmen’s appetite for power, but what about the leftout allies and hangers-on who hold the government on their unsolicited, unconditional support?
These are early days. But natural life weariness with the new government will soon set in. Because, most ministers in the top job are old-runners. And by all accounts, their collective endeavour in the last tenure was lackluster. The very combination promises it to be lackluster this round also, though the satisfaction level of the dynasty will be higher.
The Congress is holding power almost single handed this time. Even the two major allies sharing power—TMC and NCP—are former Congress entities. After the poll outcome, the Congress Party and its bandwagon in the media promised that unfettered by recalcitrant and demanding allies, the new-look Manmohan cabinet will present a picture of clean, purposeful, sensitive and young robustness. What has at last been delivered is old wine in old bottle. Some portfolios have changed hands, not people, some ministries have been bifurcated to accommodate the overarching ambitions of too many aspirants, the Congress high command’s diktat at berth control abandoned mid-way, and yet many states, castes, communities remain unrepresented while some provinces, castes and minorities continued to dominate the scene.
On the face of it, it is a tired, old, overconfident, in fact, explicitly arrogant team that has now taken the reins. How does it define the ruling establishment’s economic and political priorities? Clearly, though the Congress tally is less than what it had in 1991, its euphoria is 1984 equivalent. The party believes it is on the ascent. If you believe the cronies, it cannot be wrong, and it cannot do anything wrong led by such wonderful political geniuses as Sonia Gandhi, Priyanka Vadra, Rahul Gandhi and of course the redoubtable Manmohan Singh. It is the victory of aspiration over grievance, we are informed. But the cynical minority consolidation and its strategic voting in the Congress win are visible for any keen observer of the electoral scene. The Congress understands this more than any friendly poll analyst. That is why the cabinet is packed with known minority faces and the extra care invested in taking on board the Muslim League and National Conference along with Ghulam Nabi Azad and Salman Khurshid. Similarly, for the same reason the Congress refused to share power with Samajwadi Party, RJD and LJP. It does not want to establish more contenders for the valued Muslim vote bank. The Congress has a purpose to build up the party in UP and Bihar. It has deliberately ignored the Yadav, Thakur and Jat components. It wants to corner the NCP—already diminished in Maharashtra—where soon state assembly polls will be held. It is also planning some dirty tricks in Karnataka to destabilise the BJP government there. The Congress, which had practically abandoned Gujarat, has given it two ministries. But Chhattisgarh is totally unrepresented. Orissa gets only a Minister of State. Culture is one area totally left out. Perhaps the department may not hold any significance to the new dispensation.
It is in a hurry to consolidate in south India where it was once the premier political force. It will try to keep both Naveen Patnaik and Nitish Kumar in Orissa and Bihar respectively in good humour for the time being. It will also try to regain hold on Jharkhand, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh. These are the immediate signals being sent out by the new cabinet.
It is a long haul for both the Congress and the BJP. The Congress is looking for a single-party rule in Delhi in the next round. The BJP has to confront this new reality.
The short shrift given to long-time allies by the Congress is an interesting lesson in political aggression. All the Congress allies who propped up the first Manmohan government in the name of blind anti-BJPism have faced electoral rout and have been ditched by the ruling party. They have paid a heavy price for hanging on to Congress coat-tails.
Ditching the allies has nothing to do with presenting a clean image. True. RJD, SP and LJP carry with them a baggage of corrupt, criminal elements who dominated the Manmohan Singh cabinet during his first innings. That is, however, not the real reason for not taking them along this time. If probity in public life was the criteria, many DMK and Congress ministers would not have found a berth in the new cabinet. Expediency and political opportunism played their role here. The Congress has to expand, assert and satisfy its own internal wrangling for power. How will it play out in the long run is the moot point.