Chintan, chinta and coronation

Several bills aimed at curbing corruption are pending in Parliament for long. Why has no attempt been made to get them enacted?

At the Congress Party’s conclave in Jaipur this week there was chinta (worry) over the series of forthcoming state Assembly elections to be followed by the Lok Sabha poll next year. The party’s votebanks having dwindled since 2009 when it returned to power at the Centre with a stronger mandate than five years earlier, there was chintan (brainstorming) about what to do.

However, what was not said during the discussion was perhaps more important than what was said, first at separate meetings of sub-committees and then at the All-India Congress Committee. In the end, however, everything was overshadowed by what some are calling the “Coronation of the Crown Prince”, though technically it was Rahul Gandhi’s anointment as the party’s designated No. 2. He has, of course, held this position ever since he joined politics in 2004, contesting and winning the election from the Amethi parliamentary constituency. But what was de facto hitherto is now de jure as well.
Despite the appearance of high drama, the crowning event was obviously well orchestrated. There can be no other explanation for the instant beating of drums and the spectacle of fireworks in jubilation. The exuberant reaction by both young and old delegates to Mr Gandhi’s debut speech as party vice-president, even when the tone and content justified it, had a touch of sycophancy about it. Comparisons between him and US President Barack Obama, drawn by many a Rahul devotee, for instance, were totally untenable. A few perceptive analysts have rightly pointed out that Mr Gandhi’s speech, well drafted by his speechwriters and well delivered by him, would surely enthuse his party members but would disappoint the country. For, it does not discuss any of the grim problems confronting India, and is devoid of even a single policy statement or new idea. This said, it is time to focus on some of the major issues that were raised and faced, if only up to a point.
In her inaugural address, Congress president Sonia Gandhi candidly admitted that the Congress had alienated the middle class. “We cannot allow our growing, educated middle class to be disillusioned and alienated,” she said. But she made no attempt to analyse why the urban middle class that had voted almost solidly for the Congress in the 2009 Lok Sabha election has now not just drifted away from it but has, in fact, turned against it.
Since the urban and educated middle class’ alienation from the party has a lot to do with the searing subject of sexual crimes against women — a subject on which Mrs Gandhi spoke with “great anguish and pain” and condemned “prejudice against the girl child” and treatment of women, particularly widows — she did not offer a word of explanation for the failure of Congress leaders even to go to the thousands of enraged young people, women and men, protesting against the horrific gangrape in Delhi. Such insensitivity hurts.
As for remedying this scourge all that she did was to reaffirm her party’s “commitment” to the Women’s Reservation Bill (without holding out any promise of getting this bill, already adopted by the Rajya Sabha, passed also by the Lok Sabha), and to ensure that 30 per cent of inspectors, sub-inspectors and constables in the police are women.
On the cancer of corruption, too, Mrs Gandhi recognised that the people, particularly the middle class, “would not tolerate it any longer”. But here again, she had little to say besides vowing that the Congress would “stay in the forefront” of the fight against graft and malfeasance, especially among bureaucrats and politicians.
The question that neither the Congress Party nor its government cares to answer is this: Several bills aimed at curbing corruption are among the 81 measures pending in Parliament for long. Unlike the insurance or land acquisition legislation, these evoke no great opposition. Why then has no attempt been made to get them enacted speedily? Also, when in the wake of the CWG, 2G and other mega scams, rampant corruption evoked enormous protests, the Congress was celebrating its 125th anniversary. Mrs Gandhi had then outlined a five-point plan to eliminate corruption. Abolition of ministerial “discretion” in the allotment of land, housing or any other privilege was one of her directives. Nothing whatsoever has been done about it. Why?
A remarkable feature of Jaipur chintan was the Congress president’s emphasis on the need to find new and suitable allies. This is obviously the result of her bitter experience during the last eight years, especially with allies such as the Trinamul Congress led by the mercurial chief minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee. Ironically, the United Progressive Alliance-1 was better off than the UPA-2. The Left Front was then the Congress’ principal ally. Its demands were largely ideological, such as no divestment of equity in public-sector units. The breach came over the Indo-US nuclear deal. Since then the Congress is often held to ransom even by such allies as the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu and the Nationalist Congress Party in Maharashtra over their demands, some of them dubious.
Facing rude ground realities, the Congress Party had dismounted the 1998 Pachmarhi high horse of “going it alone” and returning to power on its own strength long ago. Yet several delegates in Jaipur, led inevitably by those from West Bengal, pleaded for doing away with alliances altogether. The high command simply ignored them.
Finally, whatever the Congress’ shortcomings or woes, internal and external, it has one great advantage and consolation. The plight of the main Opposition party, the BJP, is far worse and more pathetic than its own. In the next few days Nitin Gadkari, embroiled in a series of questionable business deals, is almost certain to be elected BJP president for a second term because the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, head of the saffron parivar, has rejected all objections by senior BJP leaders. If this does happen it would be the saffron camp’s best gift to the Congress.

(The article was written before Rajnath Singh emerged as the consensus candidate for the post of the BJP president)

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