CONGRESS IS PAINTING ITSELF INTO A CORNER

Like Arvind Kejriwal’s cantankerousness, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi’s adamancy can begin to hurt their political standing.

Notwithstanding the similarity in the matter of challenging the centre, there is a major difference in the motivation behind the Delhi chief minister’s offensive and that of the two Congress leaders.

While Kejriwal can said to be confronting the Narendra Modi government from a position of strength because of the Aam Admi Party’s (AAP) huge majority in the state assembly, it is just the opposite for the Congress president and vice-president because of their party’s massive setback in the last general election.

In public perception, however, what matters in the aftermath of electoral success or failure is how the victorious or defeated politicians conduct themselves. On this count, the AAP leader and the two Congress stalwarts have exposed their limitations where responsible leadership qualities are concerned.

While the AAP’s “my way or the highway” outlook has been known since the days of Anna Hazare’s movement with which it was initially associated, and which can be explained by the fact that it is new in politics, the Congress’s display of a similar uncompromising attitude is surprising in a 130-year-old party. The tantrums of a youngster are more acceptable than of an elderly person.

If, even then, the Congress seems hell-bent on its disruptive tactics in parliament, the reason is probably that its two top leaders have become temperamentally incapable of acting in accordance with the image of a so-called Grand Old Party (GOP) after a decade in power till last year.

Their uneasiness may have also been aggravated by the realization that Modi still enjoys a wide measure of support despite his failure to bring about the promised achhe din or good days.

The GOP’s ire is perhaps all the greater since it is on the verge of a major change of guard with Rahul Gandhi expected to take over the party’s reins from his mother.

For the latter, the Congress’s setback has come at the worst time possible because she does not want to leave a broken outfit in the hands of a son who is still regarded as something of a greenhorn in politics, whose immaturity is made worse by the customary arrogance of a person who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.
It must be obvious to her that if she steps down from the party president’s post, it will not be easy for the crown prince to control the party considering that he was called a joker by a party member from Kerala, an elitist by another from Delhi and someone whose coronation should be delayed, according to a third from Punjab.
All these “rebels” – T.H. Mustafa, Sandeep Dixit and Amrinder Singh – have fallen silent since a rejuvenated Rahul appeared on the scene, but not a few people inside and outside the Congress are likely to endorse their views, especially in the context of the negativism being displayed by the party in parliament, which has made India Inc accused it of being anti-growth.

If there is anything which Rahul needed to learn from his nearly two months of contemplation in a Buddhist monastery in Myanmar is the virtue of the middle path, the essence of the religion.

Instead, he is taking an extreme position which echoes the Maoist leader Ganapathy’s belief that Modi was “installed” by the capitalists. Little wonder that Rahul seemingly takes pride in being called “left of left”, as he indicated during an informal tete-a-tete in parliament’s central hall.

Since finance minister Arun Jaitley has also said that the Congress has positioned itself to the left of Karl Marx, it is obvious that the party’s “socialistic” pretensions dating back to the pursuit of the licence-permit-control raj are being substantiated.

The Congress probably believes that this is just as well since it will boost its pro-poor credentials. Besides, this is the line which Sonia Gandhi had been following since around 2010 in accordance with the wishes of the left-of-centre National Advisory Council (NAC) of which she was the chairman.

It is worth recalling that one of the NAC members, Aruna Roy, bemoaned the Manmohan Singh government’s emphasis on growth.

It is a stance, however, which is ill-suited to an era of liberalization. The Congress, therefore, may be painting itself into a corner by harking back to the “garibi hatao” (remove poverty) days of Indira Gandhi, who, incidentally, is deeply admired by her grandson.

Unless the Congress recovers its faith in parliament, it faces the danger of isolation which is already evident from the reluctance of a number of opposition parties to support its disruptive tactics and opposition to measures like the Goods and Services Tax.

A more mature leadership would not have gone out of its way to don the anti-industry tag since there are many other issues on which the Modi government can be criticized, starting with the imposition of saffron apparatchiki in autonomous bodies like the Indian Council of Historical Research, the National BookTrust and the Film and Television Institute of India.

Its propensity to “go easy” on those Hindu militants responsible for the Malegaon and Samjhauta express blasts can be another point of criticism. The Congress, however, is losing these opportunities because of its single-minded focus on the improprieties of the external affairs minister and two Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief ministers.