The Congress party is in total disarray. Senior party leaders are fighting with each other and their eyes are on the office of Prime Minister. The party’s main spokespersons have gone into hibernation because they cannot face the nation and the media. Or, the party spokespersons have gone on the defensive. One spokesperson has tendered an unconditional apology to Anna Hazare, who has unleashed a crusade against corruption. The party fielded Digvijay Singh, Rashid Alvi and Renuka Choudhary to counter the opposition’s charges, but they have made the party’s position even more precarious as they are uncouth, arrogant, abusive and too incompetent to handle the issues and rebut the opposition’s serious charges. Indeed, they are not acceptable to the people.
AICC president Sonia Gandhi is unwell, though nobody knows what exactly her ailment is, which is still secret from the general public. Unconfirmed reports say she may soon revisit the United States for treatment. As she is sick, she is not in a position to stem the rot in the party. True, in the past few days Sonia Gandhi has taken part in political meetings, but all these meetings took place either at the Prime Minister’s official residence, 7 Race Course, or at 10 Janpath, Sonia Gandhi’s official residence.
Sonia Gandhi made a brief post-illness public appearance on October 2 at Rajghat, to indicate that she would soon be back in full command. But the trouble is by no means over; it is in fact almost impossible to fix the mess.
Rahul Gandhi has simply failed to click, despite the backing of the party president and entire Congress leadership, which is essentially a collection of sycophants and yes-men. Gone are those days when there were leaders of mass/district and state experience who would keep the party alive and the central Congress leadership would merely supplement the efforts of state-level leaders. Right now, there is not a single leader in any state who is in a position to carry the people. The few leaders present in some states, such as Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab, Delhi, Bihar, Haryana, are busy in petty politicking, striving to tarnish the image of party rivals in the eyes of high command. Neither Sonia nor Rahul Gandhi is personally aware of the ground situation, as they are surrounded by a coterie with no mass base and overweening ambitions.
Rahul Gandhi is now unlikely to click. He was a greenhorn in politics when Sonia induced her to join politics and he remains a greenhorn to this day. He has no leadership qualities and cannot even speak properly ; has no sense of what to speak and where; and only courts controversy when he speaks, forcing seniors, including general secretaries like Digvijay Singh and spokespersons like Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Manish Tiwari to come to the rescue. The memory of what the putative PM-in-waiting said in the Lok Sabha on the Lokpal issue lingers in public memory. He tried to prove his political sagacity and administrative ability by reading from a prepared statement, but landed in a piquant situation by taking a line different from what the Prime Minister had taken a day earlier. Notwithstanding all the media hype, Rahul has failed to establish himself as a leader in his own right.
Worse, the people now believe that the Congress is the most corrupt party and has outlived its utility. The Congress is not for aam admi; it is against aam admi.
The Congress-led UPA is also in complete disarray. Senior ministers are fighting with each other publicly. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, the party trouble-shooter whose office was allegedly bugged by the Union Home Ministry under P Chidambaram, has made the regime’s position untenable. Media claims that the UPA chairperson has brokered peace between the two, but this is only a temporary truce and the differences between the two are sure to surface again. Reports have already started emanating from concerned quarters that it was only under duress that Mukherjee distanced himself from inferences and conclusions drawn from the March 25 Finance Ministry-prepared note on the multi-crore 2G spectrum scam, and that he is seething with frustration and anger. The reports suggest he was so upset that he offered to resign. Mukherjee has refuted these reports formally.
The note virtually held Chidambaram responsible for the huge loss to the public exchequer (Rs 176,000 crore, according CAG report). So great was the controversy generated by the note that the Union Government was dysfunctional for over 8 days; it continues to suffer from the after shocks.
Even otherwise, the truce brokered by Sonia Gandhi has no meaning as the matter is not only being directly monitored by the apex court, but is also under the scrutiny of the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) and Public Accounts Committee (PAC), both constitutional bodies. Besides, opposition parties including the BJP, CPI and CPI-M, have kept up pressure with the demand for Chidambaram’s resignation, failing which the Prime Minister must sack him. BJP says the right place for Chidambaram is Tihar Jail where Andimuthu Raja, the sacked Telecom Minister, languishes along with other accused.
Neither Mukherjee, who hopes to occupy the top seat, would forgive Chidambaram, who also considers himself a prime ministerial candidate; nor would Chidambaram forgive Mukherjee as it was his ministry’s note that practically held him responsible for the scam. Since then, Chidambaram has not responded to media queries regarding his involvement or otherwise in the scandal, which has already sent a minister, an MP and a number of officials to Tihar Jail.
The contents in the March 25 note, the subsequent letter written by Mukherjee to the Prime Minister and AICC president on September 27 to explain his position and set the record straight, have marred Chidambaram’s chances and landed him in serious controversy. These also point fingers towards the Prime Minister, who always feigns ignorance. Yet even Pranab da’s claim that the March 25 note was based on inputs from the PMO and other concerned ministries has not moved the Prime Minister to break his stoic silence!
UPA’s problems have been aggravated by Union Agriculture Minister Shard Pawar’s demand that the nation be taken into confidence about the issue. The UPA also has to deal with Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy who has gone to the Supreme Court and the trial court to demand that the CBI interrogate Chidambaram. Everyone knows Swamy doesn’t relent. It was he who produced before the Supreme Court the March 25 note that put UPA on the mat, and he told media persons on September 28 that he has many more documents with him about the 2G spectrum scam.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa is also there to queer the pitch for Chidambaram. Ever since she scored a landslide victory in the Assembly elections, she has been demanding his resignation saying his position as Home minister is untenable as he won the Lok Sabha election through “fraudulent means”. The latest controversy has further inspired the TN Chief Minister to up her ante and demand dismissal of Chidambaram.
Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid has publicly acknowledged that there were differences between Mukherjee and Chidambaram, but has tried to defend Chidambaram, saying he “has committed no wrong” and that “he only went by the decision of NDA Government”. It is a weak defence.
What was most unsavoury was that the trouble-shooters tried to blame the bureaucrats who prepared the March 25 note. How could the ministers disown what the Finance Minister himself saw and later disowned under pressure from 10 Janpath or 7 Race Course? Such a move can create anarchy and instability and paralyse the government.
Then there is the face-off between Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna and Defence Minister A.K. Antony. Krishna favours peace with Pakistan at any cost, including a compromise on Jammu & Kashmir. He is not willing to abandon the 2009 Sharm-el-Sheikh (Egypt) line, where the Indian Prime Minister and his Pakistani counterpart said that Pakistan, like India, was also a victim of terrorism; that talks and terrorism were two different things and that the terror attacks in India should be no excuse for abandoning “peace process” between the two countries. Krishna has been pursuing the Sharm-el-Sheikh line despite the fact that Pakistan has on umpteen occasions crossed the line and caused grave provocation by pursuing a forward policy to promote its geo-political interests in the region, including India and Afghanistan. Krishna doesn’t attach much importance to the existence of terror training camps in the enemy country and POJK. Nor does he consider export of terror from across the border a cause for ending the ongoing dialogue process between the two countries.
Antony doesn’t endorse this line. Only last week, he publicly stated that “if relations between India and Pakistan are to be harmonised, then Islamabad has no other option but to dismantle all the 42 terror training camps, located in Pakistan and POJK,” that “talks and terrorism cannot go hand-in-hand”. He insisted that Pakistan had to destroy all 42 terror camps.
Such differences at the top of the UPA has an adverse impact on the country’s polity, economy, internal security and defence preparedness.
Most worrying is the plight of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. There is a national consensus that he heads the most corrupt government India has ever seen in decades, and that, instead of leading the nation, he has allowed himself to be guided by those who draw their inspiration from 10 Janpath. Reports suggest that Sonia Gandhi, who now thinks that Manmohan Singh’s second term has proved disastrous and marred the party’s poll prospects, is toying with the idea of giving him the boot but cannot find a suitable replacement. Rahul Gandhi is her natural choice, but he has failed to inspire confidence.
The power struggle between the present incumbent and Sonia Gandhi and her loyalists has reached a decisive stage; anything can happen anytime. Dr Singh has accused the BJP of conspiring against his government to force midterm polls. This indicates his nervousness; it has emboldened BJP to ask its cadres to be ready for snap polls as a crisis of leadership and credibility has gripped the government and put a question mark on its longevity.
The author is former Chair Professor, Maharaja Gulab Singh Chair, University of Jammu, Jammu, & former member Indian Council of Historical Research