NDA needs to arouse public opinion, gather allies
UPA’s resounding victories in presidential and vice presidential elections are the outcome of Congress party’s ability to manipulate the political class by misusing its trusted ally – CBI – and other agencies. These results are the magic of numbers in the existing Lok Sabha and State Assemblies and in no way reflect the public mood. Unsurprisingly, these victories have neither enthralled the cadres nor encouraged its allies to believe that the downward spiral of the United Progressive Alliance is likely to be halted.
The results of recent assembly and civic elections across the country show that the Congress stands alienated from the masses. Most significant development is that the urban middle class that strongly supported it in the 2009 parliamentary polls has switched its loyalty back to BJP and its allies. How else to explain NDA’s grand showing in civic elections in UP, Himachal, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Maharashtra? Similarly, Congress lost most of the assembly by-elections, even in its perceived strongholds in tribal areas of M P, and semi urban seats in Rajasthan and Punjab.
There are around 80 urban parliamentary constituencies in the country. UPA had won most of these in 2009. It is likely to lose most of them if elections were held now.
Congress allies and those supporting UPA from outside are totally disillusioned with the coalition government’s performance during the past three years. The common refrain of the allies is that the dominant party is insensitive to their concerns and that it seldom consults them on vital issues that concern them and their support bases. They see no future in the UPA but may continue to enjoy spoils of power at the Centre till the present dispensation is in office. Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), once its most reliable ally recently gave the Congress party a rude shock. NCP Chief Sharad Pawar wrote to the Prime Minister that he was quitting the Government to have more time to build NCP to secure its future. Although there were numerous reasons for Pawar to take this step, including his party’s concerns in Maharashtra, the trigger was Congress neither assigning him a status that his seniority demanded nor allocating to him a more important portfolio (read home ministry). The message was loud and clear: NCP sees no future in UPA that was going downhill. Shaken by this unexpected move, Sonia Gandhi and Dr. Manmohan Singh mollified Pawar by constituting a coordination committee of UPA and assuring him that his concerns would be looked in to. This followed an official clarification that all ministers barring the PM were equal. TMC leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamta Bannerji was isolated after SP supremo Mulayam Singh’ back stabbed her by going back on his promise to project A P J Abdul Kalam as their presidential candidate. She was left with no other option and had to support Pranab Mukherjee despite her open opposition to his nomination by the UPA. She put the Congress on notice by declaring at a huge public rally at Kolkata that TMC would go it alone in the next elections and also forecasting an early parliamentary polls, DMK too is sulking. Union Fertilizer Minister M K Alagiri, the only DMK minister in the UPA II, is upset because of his exclusion from the empowered group of ministers to discuss the drought situation. Yet another reason for the DMK to be unhappy is that none of its hopefuls were rewarded in the recent cabinet reshuffle.
NCP, DMK and TMC are not the only regional parties that are likely to fight against the Congress in 2014. Chances are that neither BSP nor SP will go to polls as Congress ally. Again, AIDMK and DMK can’t be part of the same alliance in Tamil Nadu. As for Andhra – the state in which the Congress had a landslide victory in 2009 – the party is beset with countless problems. Breakaway YSR Congress led by Y S Jaganmohan Reddy demonstrated its hold by capturing 16 of the 18 assembly seats in the recent by-elections while the Congress lost in all the constituencies by huge margins. Telgu Desham Party (TDP) and TRP have their own areas of influence in the state and will give the ruling party a bloody nose in the next election.
If Congress is in bad health, reasons are not far to seek. The high command is intolerant about state leaders who have a strong support base in their respective states. It started with Indira Gandhi. She won the elections on her personal charisma and the bogus yet attractive slogan of “gharibi hatao” and went on to marginalize state satraps. Sonia Gandhi is no different. She ignores popular state leaders and imposes dynasty loyalists on state parties as she did in Uttrakhand and is likely to repeat in Himachal. Several powerful regional satraps left the party at different times and in different circumstances and are now leading regional outfits – TMC, NCP and the YSR Congress. None of these parties is likely to be with the sinking Congress in 2014.
Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid in a rare bout of courage told the nation that Congress party lacks ideological direction. He only confirmed what discerning Indians have been saying all along i.e. Congress party’s top leadership is visionless and corrupt. The only ideology they have is to stick to power by hook or crook. The dynasty has reduced the party to a soulless machine to contest elections and prop up the dynasty so that it enjoys power without responsibility. The party has no faith in liberal and democratic values and is run on the whims of the dynasty. Khurshid pleaded for a “new ideology” to meet contemporary challenges and demanded that “our next generation leader Rahul Gandhi” should provide it.
One thought ideologies remain constant only policies and strategies are tuned to meet contemporary contingencies. Leaders at different levels in a democratic party discuss and debate ideology, policies and strategies and evolve a broad consensus. But the Congress is a unique party in which only a member of the dynasty has the “ability” to give a new ideology and lead it out of the mess he has created by remote controlling the UPA II Government, or so Khurshid believes. Or was he talking about Rahul coining yet another bogus slogan to mislead the people? The heir-apparent may be willing but the nation has already seen through him and rejected him in UP and Bihar. Khurshid is on the spot on his observations about UPA’s functioning during its two tenures. During UPA I, he says, Sonia Gandhi restricted herself to political management and left the governance part to the PM but during its second term the “governance and politics have all got intermingled”. What he obviously meant but cleverly left unsaid was that during UPA II Sonia Gandhi and her “ideology giver” son interfered in governance leading to the policy paralysis and the loss of public confidence in the Government and the PM as reflected in recent opinion polls and election results.
UPA is fragile and tainted with massive financial scandals, most notorious being 2nd generation telecom, Coal mining and Oil-field scams. The massive loot of treasury has defamed the nation and reduced it to one of the most corrupt counties in the world causing wide-spread gut wrenching poverty. BJP and the civil society have done a good job in arousing public opinion against all pervasive corruption, failures of the Government on sky-rocketing prices and terrorism, the last one because of its vote bank politics. Bal Thackery is right that there is widespread public ire against the Congress which will erupt during parliamentary elections. It is for the principal opposition party to rise to the occasion, mobilize its cadres, involve right thinking and patriotic citizens in the movement for clean government and gather more allies from among regional outfits to generate a wave to sweep out of power the present dispensation. Time is ripe to usher in a new era of progress, social harmony and corruption free administration and society.
(The writer is a veteran journalist and columnist).