By Amulya Ganguli
By allowing parliament to function on the penultimate day of the monsoon session and participating for a while in a debate on the Lalit Modi affair, the Congress’ mother-and-son leadership has shown it is something of a novice where tactics are concerned.
Had the leaders allowed a debate immediately after the “improprieties” of Sushma Swaraj came to light, they might have been able to score more political points than what they did last Wednesday.
A debate on the external affairs minister’s procedural lapses soon after the news broke would have caught the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) off guard, especially because it would have had to find convincing explanations for Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje’s apparent favouritism towards the former Indian Premium League (IPL) supremo.
But by refusing to let parliament function till Sushma Swaraj and Raje resigned along with the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, the Congress let the BJP have enough time to gather its wits and formulate the strategy of a counter-attack.
As much was evident from the external affairs minister’s belligerent speech in the house which matched Rahul Gandhi’s aggressiveness. The result was a draw, with a clear victory eluding both sides.
While Rahul Gandhi was unable to substantiate his charge that the minister had committed an act of criminality by secretly helping a fugitive who, according to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, was not legally a fugitive at all, Sushma Swaraj had to go back to the Bofors scam (1987) and the Bhopal disaster (1984) to hold her ground.
If anything, the slanging match showed the Congress that people who live in glass houses should not throw stones at others.
It is possible, of course, that the BJP would have raked up the past even if the debate was held on the first day of the session.
But the Congress would not have earned the reputation in the meantime of being anti-development by holding parliament to ransom, which has led to an unprecedented appeal by the corporate sector to the political class to let parliament function.
Even if India Inc’s intervention has been criticized by the opposition parties, they cannot be unaware that the concerns of the “haves” are shared by a wide section of the “have-nots”, who are not amused by the slogan-shouting and placard-waving.
Congress leader Anand Sharma’s assertion that the BJP as an opposition party had also derailed legislative business cannot be an adequate justification for the Grand Old Party’s disruptive tactics.
However, one beneficial fallout from this sad episode can be that the politicians in future may refrain from indulging in such tit-for-tat theatrics which further tarnish their image.
There is little doubt that the Congress decision to let Sushma Swaraj speak notwithstanding the din created by Sonia Gandhi’s and Rahul Gandhi’s storm-troopers was the result of a growing belief in the party, which was first voiced by Shashi Tharoor, that the Congress was painting itself into a corner as the reluctance of several opposition parties to support its rowdy conduct showed.
It is this dissatisfaction which has led to the first signs of a rival group which is distancing itself from the Congress and the Left. As much was evident from the attendance at a meeting convened by Nationalist Congress Party (NAC) leader Sharad Pawar, of bigwigs like the Samajwadi Party’s Mulayam Singh Yadav, the Janata Dal-United’s Sharad Yadav, the National Conference’s Farooq Abdullah and Trinamool Congress’ Mamata Banerjee.
If the BJP succeeds in securing their support for the passage of at least the Goods and Services Bill, if not the amended land law, during a special session, the Congress will find itself isolated with only its ally of the 2004-08 period, the Left, giving it company.
It is obvious that by taking an extreme position on the ministerial resignations, the Congress has left itself no escape route.
A possible reason for this tactical error is that the party’s present leadership has never faced a serious challenge till now. As a result it is at a loss as to how to deal with one except by creating a ruckus.
Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi rode to power with their band of courtiers in 2004 because, as Atal Bihari Vajpayee believed, the BJP lost because of the revulsion caused by the 2002 riots.
Then, for the next 10 years, the Congress had an easy run as the BJP became something of a ‘kati patang’ or a drifting kite, as a fellow-traveller, Arun Shourie, said.
However, the abrupt end last year of the Congress’ reign seemingly puzzled and angered the party, and especially its first family, which is probably afraid that its grip on the organization may slacken in the absence of a fighting spirit since it is feudal loyalty which holds the outfit together rather than any clear ideology other than a vague socialism.
But the mistake which Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have made is not trying to unite the opposition parties on issues on which there can be a wide measure of agreement.
The land law is one such subject, but the mother-and-son duo took the wrong turn when they insisted on demanding the resignations of the alleged wrong-doers first and holding discussions later.