The Trigger Effect

The outcome of the Bihar Assembly election is very much a victory for Nitish Kumar and the alliance of the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). I am not surprised at the success of the JD(U)-BJP combine and a great deal of credit for this must also be given to senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley, who, along with Mr Kumar, worked hard in the state. Also, I must admit that over the last two elections their electoral predictions were more than accurate.

The decline of Lalu Prasad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan was predictable. Clearly, development and good governance prevailed over caste-based politics. Sadly, the secular stand taken by the Congress had no impact on the Bihar electorate and the party declined further from its meagre share of 10 seats to six.
I wonder if the number of scams had an effect on the prospect of the Congress in an election that stretched over a month. The results of these elections will have an impact on national politics too as elections are due in West Bengal where Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress is set to sweep the polls and will yield little to the Congress. In Tamil Nadu, the alliance of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the Congress cannot take anything for granted. The All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam will pose a formidable challenge and the 2G spectrum scam will change many equations.
The Uttar Pradesh byelections, where the Bahujan Samaj Party did not contest, witnessed the Samajwadi Party scoring a spectacular win with the Congress and the BJP lagging behind. In Uttar Pradesh, the Congress — from a position of relative comfort — is now under pressure.
The winners and losers will all do a post-mortem of their efforts. However, one trend that is emerging is that creating internal dissent within the ruling party in the state is not going to help the Congress score political points as this has been proved in Bihar.
Strong charismatic leaders like Mr Kumar in Bihar, Naveen Patnaik in Orissa and Narendra Modi in Gujarat were able to shake the “old guard” and, later, developed a committed cadre of their own. There is an important lesson in this for the Congress. Besides these states, the Congress’ power will be put to the test in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh.
Can the Congress effectively fight elections without a designated leader to lead its cadre in a state? The only state where things are clear is Punjab where Capt. Amarinder Singh overshadows everyone. The Congress has much to think about before the next bout of Assembly elections begin in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu.
The 2G scam is very different from the Indian Premier League controversy where the battle was between Lalit Modi and the Board of Control for Cricket in India. It’s also different from the multiple scams related to land issues in Maharashtra and Karnataka, or even the mess that was created in preparing for the Commonwealth Games. The thing that makes the 2G scam different is the figure — `1,76,000 crore. Few, if any, can relate to this figure and the biggest casualty in this is the fact that firm and effective governance no longer exists in the United Progressive Alliance-2 (UPA-2) government. Even if the intentions are noble the decision-making capacity is severely limited by financial pressure groups that have entered the political arena and now control the political numbers.
The 2G scam has festered for over two years and everyone from politics to business is aware of the massive fraud. Sadly, everyone is powerless to deal with the situation.
Former telecom minister A. Raja has resigned but has he been interrogated? Has anyone investigated the assets held by him or his family members and associates? Are not many of these directly linked to the 2G spectrum scam? The 2G scam is like a giant octopus with a thousand tentacles where you need a “thousand” agencies and departments like the Central Bureau of Investigation, Enforcement Directorate and the income-tax department to bring closure to this case in less than 20 years.
The fatigue factor is setting in as “scam after scam” is being unearthed. At the Centre and in the states we keep talking of honesty and integrity on a “personal” basis, but does this have any relevance? Is it applied firmly during every-day governance for the benefit of the public? The 2G scam is not about Mr Raja or the DMK alone. It covers political parties, business tycoons with their smart chartered accountants, corporate lawyers, media barons and power brokers. All of these have benefited from their political connections. We are looking at vested interests that are very much a part of governance at the Centre and in the states and who will do everything possible to scuttle the probe.
The Bihar result seems to have triggered many events as the BJP has decided to retain Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa. Clearly the decision is only to buy some more time to discuss and arrive at a conclusion as the Janata Dal (Secular) and the Congress will find it difficult to dislodge the Karnataka government.
In Andhra Pradesh, the Congress has appointed N. Kiran Kumar Reddy as the chief minister. It is obvious to the Congress high command, after losing ground in Telangana to the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, coastal Andhra to the Telugu Desam Party and with Jagan Reddy revolting, that corrective action was long overdue.
Like the BJP in Karnataka, the Congress will also have to compromise in Andhra Pradesh but things will not be easy. The 2G scam cannot be wished away and the immediate priority should be to find systems to cancel the licences and hold an auction to retrieve lost revenue and regain public trust.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is a man of impeccable integrity but he also heads the UPA-2 with 78 ministers. The public has the right to expect firm and timely decisions on issues like 2G from him.
I have said many times before and I will repeat: integrity and ability is always rewarded by the voting public. Mr Modi tops my list of able chief ministers followed by Ms Sheila Dikshit in Delhi, Mr Kumar in Bihar and Mr Patnaik in Orissa.
The chief ministers of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Assam have all done their party proud and so will Ms Banerjee in West Bengal. The Congress and the BJP high command cannot win a state Assembly election on their own without local leadership of merit. This is where the challenge will lie in the future.

Arun Nehru is a former Union minister

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