Why Congress finds itself in political doldrums (Comment)

August 13th, 2011 - 10:31 am ICT by IANS  

Mani Shankar Aiyar The Congress seems to be sinking deeper into a quagmire of scams. If the party thought it had survived the first onslaught of the swindles tarnishing its name by jailing some of the suspects, the appearance of a second round of accusations has pushed it back into the swamp.

The latest crisis is apparently worse than the earlier one because the prime minister and Delhi’s chief minister have been implicated. The incarcerated Suresh Kalmadi again features in the charges with questions being asked as to why he was allowed to run a private fiefdom in the run up to the Commonwealth Games despite the opposition of three sports ministers - Sunil Dutt, Mani Shankar Aiyar and M.S. Gill.

The naming of Manmohan Singh and Sheila Dikshit means a shadow has fallen on two of the party’s most well regarded personalities, the prime minister for initiating the two-decade-old economic reforms and its wealth-creation opportunities and the Delhi chief minister for her three successive electoral victories because of the commendable work she has done in improving Delhi’s infrastructure and facilities.

Sonia Gandhi’s illness at this critical time is another blow, for it has left the Congress without a guiding hand at the helm. Both the four-member panel constituted by her to act in her absence and the so-called “core” group, which is now being headed by the prime minister, are no more than ad hoc arrangements.

At the same time, Rahul Gandhi’s inclusion in the new panel cannot but set off mild organisational tremors not only because it reaffirms his high position in the pecking order but also because it suggests the possibility of his anointment as prime minister even earlier than the currently presumed year of 2014. As a result, a marginal diminution of Manmohan Singh’s position is unavoidable.

An indication of the uneasiness in Congress ranks is evident from its criticism of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India for exceeding his brief of being a mere accountant by straying into matters of policy and politics. The fact that even the prime minister voiced his displeasure points to the level of disquiet although the Congress, traditionally, has generally taken care to avoid public censure of autonomous institutions.

Yet, the fact that first the Supreme Court and then the CAG have done a yeoman’s service to the campaign against corruption is obviously unsettling the Congress for they have highlighted the party’s failures in this respect. It cannot be gainsaid that but for the Supreme Court’s supervisory role, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) would not have been so relentless in its pursuit of the corrupt.

The Congress’ awareness that the public has greater faith in the higher judiciary and the CAG has evidently made it critical of even the Supreme Court on its ruling, for instance, in the black money case, among others. But, unless the party is able to refurbish its anti-graft credentials in a major way - like setting up special courts to try the corrupt, as it has often promised - it will continue to be on the defensive.

It is the party’s hesitancy in this matter which has enabled the civil society group to hog the headlines although its disparate nature and offensive tactics, like burning copies of the Lokpal bill, have become obvious even to some of its supporters. The Congress, however, has done precious little so far to cleanse its image from its longstanding taint of corruption.

Even today when the Congress is so much on the backfoot, it will be hard put to cite a single instance to show that it has made a substantive forward movement to nab the hoarders of black money. Its complaint, therefore, that the Supreme Court is encroaching on the executive’s turf by taking over the investigations into the wealth secreted away abroad will not find many supporters.

What the Congress has apparently been unable to understand is due to the economic reforms it started the social scene, and especially the upper and middle classes, have changed beyond recognition in the last two decades.

There are pockets of backwardness, of course, exemplified by the phenomenon of honour killings and the banning of films even after their approval by the censor board. But, even these incidents show that the young men and women in the so-called backward communities, as well as the artists, are straining at the leash of antediluvian beliefs.

Similarly, crony capitalism and unwarranted official patronage, which are so evident in the various scams, are a throwback to a semi-feudal age, which still has its admirers in the Congress who are unhappy with the market-oriented policies.

Since the social changes require a transformation of the political scene, ordinary people have begun to realise how the roots of corruption lie in the partisan control which the political class wants to maintain over the bureaucracy and the business world. The Congress, the primus inter pares among parties because of its 126-year history, is suffering because it has done little to address this issue.

(13-08-2011-Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at amulyaganguli@gmail.com)

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