THE MOVING FINGER WRITES
By MV Kamath
Sushma Swaraj, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha is apparently under the impression that a mid-term poll may be in the offing and the BJP might as well be told to prepare for the possibility. That is a wise step to take but have things reached such a stage that her assessment needs to be taken seriously? The UPA-II certainly is in a bad shape. The health of the Congress president must be a matter of serious concern. It seems unlikely that she can take an active part in electioneering now or even in the months ahead. And who can present the UPA, even with or without Leftist support, as a saleable commodity?
The 2G scam – to mention just one instance – has tarred the UPA to eternity come. The very integrity of the Prime Minister is now under the microscope. The Team Hazare upsurge has shown beyond the shadow of doubt that the vast public across the entire country is up in arms against the government in power. According to its own Economic Advisers, the Government has failed to capitalise on the mandate for reforms provided by the 2009 election results. It is open knowledge that the Government has failed to put a step to runaway corruption and looting of the exchequer. Just the thought of a Pune-based stud-farm house owner, one Hasan Ali Khan amassing a whopping Rs 1.10 lakh crore between 2001 and 2008 without the authorities being aware of it, is frightening. It is obvious that those is power were looking the other way round while looting was taking place right under their noses. Worse, for a man once presumed to be one of “unimpeachable integrity”, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has been reduced to defending his own innocence/ignorance – a most shocking thing to see.
Inflation – especially food prices – is on the up-and-up and the administration is feeling helpless in the matter. Anna Hazare who was holding himself aloof for a time has now gone on the offensive and is actively demanding that the Congress be defeated in the forthcoming elections. Presently his target is the voter in Uttar Pradesh which is going in for elections to the state legislature soon. He wants the Jan Lokpal Bill to be passed without any change at the winter session of Parliament, which is not on the UPA agenda. The UPA has its own conception on how to fight corruption and is not willing to be bull-dozed by anyone, let alone the Anna Hazare team. That much had been made clear by Rahul Gandhi, the party’s putative Prime Ministerial candidate, at the last Lok Sabha session. His argument was that the Lokpal would have to be accountable to Parliament, which means it would have to be a constitutional authority which, in turn, means that it requires an amendment to the Constitution. And that is going to be a long drawn out process, that is beyond Lok Sabha’s winter session to deal with.
What Rahul Gandhi was indicating in so many words was that the UPA will not allow itself to be bullied into submission and Team Hazare might well take a walk. But Hazare’s latest stand indicates that he is not going to wait any longer and would rather take the Congress head-on in the UP State assembly elections. Right now it is anybody’s guess what the election results will turn out to be. What if the Congress is shown to have done none too badly? The presumption is that the Congress will be literally wiped out. In the UP Assembly elections in 2007, the BSP won 206 seats, the SP 97, the BJP 51 and the Congress a mere 22. To show that it can stand up to Team Hazare, the Congress must win at least 22 seats, if not more. If it fails even to get that paltry 22, it means that the Congress is not only at the losing end but has forfeited the moral right to govern even at the centre.
It does not require much effort to realise that UPA-II is presently at sixes and sevens within itself. It is a broken government. It has no internal unity. Senior ministers seem to be at daggers drawn at each other. When two of the most senior ministers in the government that has been in power for over seven years had to be individually summoned by party president Sonia Gandhi to be read the riot act, it is clear that there is something seriously damaging in the functioning of the government. One had only to watch the body language of Messers Pranab Mukherjee and P Chidambaram when they met the media to announce the truce forced on them to know it was a patchwork agreement and that worse things are yet to follow. Given the gravity of the situation that the Congress is now facing, would it be correct to presume that the summoning of mid-term elections is now only a matter of time and that one has to be prepared for such an eventuality?
Sushma Swaraj may have a point, but it is hard to conceive that the Congress will have no other option but to give in to pressure beyond its control. It will be remembered that Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has been repeating time and again that the UPA-II will run its full term in office till 2014. That may be a show of over-confidence and an assertion of will power but even to the casual observer it should be clear that the UPA’s days are numbered. If it insists that all’s well with the world, that the UPA – facts notwithstanding – is all in one piece and no one has the right to give it a push, it may be necessary for the public – say the Anna Hazare Team – to get into another act, one of organising nation-wide protests that may even lead to anarchy of sorts. Is that what the UPA government wants to face? If it resigns on its own, in a matter of principle, it may, to its own surprise do well in the elections! But if it resists to the very end, the results may prove most damaging to the Congress and its coterie of followers.
Perhaps it is that which has moved Sushma Swaraj to give her party a wake-up call. She should be knowing that within her own party there is a clash of egos that must be attended to and not allowed to deteriorate. The BJP must show in word and in deed that it is a party with a difference. It is natural to have ambitions. As Shakespeare once wrote: “Who doth ambition shun… pleased with what he gets?” it is natural to have ambitions but they should not be allowed to disintegrate the party. Perhaps the BJP would be wise to organise a quiet private poll to feel the public pulse, rather than to let individuals fight it out openly and sickeningly as has lately been noticeable. For a candidate to be churlish in behaviour does not redound well for his own reputation as much for the reputation of his party which deserves to be returned to power as a savious of the nation.