The mother-and-son duo of the Congress probably believes that their aggressive brand of politics has enabled their party to recover some of its lost ground. The fact that Narendra Modi has beaten an ignominious retreat on the land law will tend to confirm their assessment.
Their success in gathering together a number of other parties which have joined the Congress in either holding up parliamentary proceedings or boycotting the House is also likely tell Sonia and Rahul Gandhi that they are on the right. Hence, the unusual spectacle of the reclusive “housewife”, as Jyoti Basu called Sonia, shouting slogans in the street.
However, since the Congress is not a player in the forthcoming Bihar elections although it is a junior partner of the unstable Janata Dal (United)-Rashtriya Janata Dal combine, it will not be possible to ascertain from the electoral outcome whether the Congress has indeed hit the comeback trail.
It will not be till the Punjab elections next year that the Congress’s popularity or the lack of it will be known. The West Bengal elections will not count because the Congress is a marginal force there.
In the meantime, it is possible that the Congress has alienated a not inconsiderable section of the population by what finance minister Arun Jaitley has called its obstructionist and negative tactics. As much can be gauged from a survey which has shown that the deadlock in parliament is not widely appreciated.
The constant disruption of parliament can begin to seem in course of time as evidence of a petulance which brings no credit to any political party, least of one with claims to be a national organization. There may not be much public censure, therefore, of the Speaker, Sumitra Mahajan’s decision to expel 25 Congress M.P. for five days.
The argument that the BJP resorted to similar disruptive tactics in the past can provoke the retort that it is not something which is worthy of emulation. Moreover, there is the fear that such competitive rowdy behaviour can bring the parliamentary system itself into disrepute.
There is also little doubt that the disorderly conduct will draw attention to the deteriorating calibre of the political class, which makes them bank on their capacity for unruly agitations inside the House rather than on cogent arguments.
The Congress’s insistence that the external affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj, and the two chief ministers – Vasundhara Raje of Rajasthan and Shivraj Singh Chauhan of Madhya Pradesh – should first resign before any discussion can take place on their suspected culpabilities suggest that the party’s M.P.s are not too sure whether they will be able to sufficiently embarrass the government with the force of their arguments.
As it is, neither Sonia nor Rahul Gandhi is known for intellectual prowess. The Congress president rarely speaks in the House while the vice-president generally makes no more than one or two points without much elaboration.
For instance, he has never followed up his charge against the government of being beholden to capitalists – suit-boot ki sarkar – with an exposition of the role which his party expects the capitalists to play, or whether they should be weeded out since the dauphin now relishes being called “left of left”, as he indicated during informal conversations in parliament’s central hall.
The intellectual paucity of mother and son has been compounded by their patently feudal pattern of behaviour which has been accentuated by the group which nowadays surrounds the crown prince.
It comprises Jyotiraditya Scindia, a scion of the Scindia family (and Vasundhara Raje’s nephew), Gaurav Gogoi, son of the Assam chief minister, Tarun Gogoi, and Jitin Prasada and Sushmita Dev, who are the children of prominent Congressmen, the late Jitendra Prasada and Santosh Mohan Dev.
Evidently, dynasties are flourishing in the Congress, which has not only led to the shelving of Rahul’s plan for an organizational overhaul from the grassroots level, but has also exposed the hollowness of his earlier carping against the fact that most parties are run by small coteries.
But, what the duo does not seem to realize is that the conversion of the Congress into a family-run enterprise has begun to irritate the people. It wasn’t only sleaze and policy paralysis which brought down the Manmohan Singh government, but also the feudalism represented by the Congress’s first family and its band of sycophants.
As the historian Ramachandra Guha has written, it is not only the falling oil prices which have benefitted Modi, but also the fact that his challenger is Rahul Gandhi.
For all his sound and fury, it is quite obvious that the heir apparent does not have a clear economic or even political vision. There is little doubt that all his – and his mother’s – inadequacies will be exposed if they care to attend to a wide-ranging press conference. So, they prefer casual interactions with the media for five or six minutes.
During more elaborate exchanges, however, they will have to spell out whether they for or against economic reforms, or prohibition, or bans on books and films, or the quota system, or tie-ups with tainted parties like the DMK.
The Congress has given little indication so far that it has realized what hit them in May, 2014. So, it seems to believe that highlighting the Modi government’s lapses are enough. But, the opposition cannot expect to replace the ruling party unless there is clarity about its programme.