Walllowing in Delusion


By B.G.Verghese

The Congress Party’s review of its massive electoral drubbing last week shows that it has learnt nothing despite the plain results of its follies,flawed leadership and outdated ideology. India needs a party like the Congress with its century-old tradition of service in nation building but which has latterly come to assume that the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty constitutes the nation.

Sycophancy is ingrained in our politics and Ambedkar long back warned against the danger of “bhakti” which, he said, may be all right in the practise of religion but all wrong in the conduct of politics.Dev Kant Barooah arrogantly claimed in 1975 that “Indira is India and India is Indira”. This puerile notion has not been exorcised and seems to be playing out once again with a failed Rahul and a politically tired and stale Sonia assuming or being accorded a divine right to rule by a coterie that long back abandoned inner party democracy and, removed Fraternity as a founding pillar of the state, reducing the idea of secularism to an empty and divisive slogan for vote-bank politics in a feudal society.

The Congress, with its once hallowed leadership and ideals, is part of the nation’s political and social heritage and not a private club. It is no surprise that the charade played out in the post-poll Congress stocktaking has left party workers and supporters confused and angry. The swelling undercurrent of resentment is being increasingly reflected in statements by members calling for accountability, revamping of the leadership and a review of what the Congress stands for in a fast changing India within a fast changing world.

Nobody knows what Rahul Gandhi stands for since he has failed to articulate a single coherent idea on any subject of national importance in the past five years. Priyanka did better than he did at the hustings but can be no substitute for a democratically elected leader through the AICC, charged with a new mandate for the future. Falling back on lineage will not do. But that precisely is what seems to be planned with the AICC issuing invitations to a national seminar on “Renewing India’s commitment to Jawaharlal Nehru’s Vision”, marking the 50th anniversary of Nehru’s passing to be held on May 27.This is a routine invitation on onereckoning but equally a not-so-subtle bid to evoke a dated past and family nostalgia, with Sonia and Rahul playing leading roles.

Nehru was a great and greatly loved leader who served the nation well. But he was also responsible for some acts of crass folly. We are no longer living in Nehru’s world. What the AICC is seeking to address is not a scholarly assembly but apolitical jamboree. The discussion at its best will be on par with a debate on TodarMal’s land reforms and Asoka’s peace initiative. Interesting historically butotherwise irrelevant.

Meanwhile, the prospective PM has been keeping his cards close to his chest. Perhaps for that reasontoo much has been read of his assumed “master-stroke” in inviting the SAARC leaders and the PM of Mauritius to his swearing-in. This is a purely ceremonial function and is scarcely an occasion for serious talks when his cabinet has to be sworn in and hold its first consultations on policy formulation. A courtesy call and photo opportunity is all that might be possible over a banquet. With Mr Nawaz Sharif coming, a one-to-one courtesy summit has been organised for the 27th morning for 20-30 minutes with each of the visiting leaders. There will be no time and there has been no preparation for serious bilateral talks and so these can at best be breaking-the-ice meetings. A back-channel already exists with Pakistan and has been active. This will probably be directed to continue. Mr Nawaz Sharif will surely invite Mr Modi to visit Islamabad and the new PM will be left wondering how to respond differently from Dr Manmohan Singh after the series of recent cross-LOC attacks and the bombing of our embassy in Herat, events of a kind that were forecast to “test’ the new PM. Symbolism is useful but should not be driven by vanity.

It is necessary give the new administration time to settle down, review and formulate its security and diplomatic policies and then take such measured steps as it deems fit. Cabinet-making has not been easy, with competing claims to one or other of the four “major” portfolios. Many ruffled feathers may need to be soothed. However, it is good that the new PM is in favour of a smaller and more compact cabinet, and proposes to consolidate and rationalise Departments that were fragmented over the years just to accommodate more and more ministers, making for loss of coordination and coherence, avoidable delays and needless turf problems. It is appropriate that departmental secretaries are preparing briefs on nodal issues and action points so as to ensure emphasis on focused goals.

Mr Modi has done well to snub Vaiko and Jayalalithaa who objected to the invitation to the Sri Lankan President to visit Delhi for the swearing in. Such disruptive conduct must rightly be nipped in the bud. Foreign policy cannot be outsourced to the states as has happened hitherto. The Bangladeshi Speaker, representing Sheikh Hasina will surely ask if Mr Modi and hotheads in Assam are going to continue to dictate terms on a Teesta and land boundary accord?

There may be no formal Leader of the Opposition as none has obtained the necessary qualifying strength of a tenth of the membership of the House, or 54 members. However, this need not preclude floor coordinationso that that there is a vigorous and responsible opposition that will not resort to the tactics followed by the BJP and others in the last LokSabha of disrupting the working of the House day after day and for entre sessions.

The length and conduct of the recent polls, gaps in the matter of poll financing, lack of teeth in dealing with the growing menace of paid news, speedier processes for disqualification of those with criminal records, and reviewing the model code of conduct all call for early, collective attention. The electoral system has stood up well to enormous challenges but has to remain ahead of the game.

The regional parties will no doubt review their fortunes and alignments. The AamAdmi Party however appears to be on the path of self-destruction with an irresponsible and quixotic leader in ArvindKejriwal and some of his colleagues who wish to apply different standards to different parties and different occasions. Internal dissensions are growing and the aamjanata is fast tiring of a permanent circuswith far too many clowns. ShaizaImli and Dr Gopinath have quit.The AAP catalysed a certain national mood but is losing the plot.



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