Monday February 18, 2019
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Congress’ tactical mistakes: Lalitgate

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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.

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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.

(IANS)

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With The Elections Coming Up, Indian Government Promises Farmers Their Income Support

The government said the fiscal deficit this year will rise from 3.3 percent to 3.4 percent due to the outlay for the income scheme for farmers.

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Farmers, India
An Indian woman helps her farmer husband irrigate a paddy field using a traditional system, on the outskirts of Gauhati, India, Feb. 1, 2019. VOA

With an eye on wooing voters ahead of what is expected to be a tough national election, India’s Hindu nationalist government announced cash handouts of billions of dollars for poor farmers.

In the annual budget presented in parliament Friday, interim Finance Minister Piyush Goyal said 120 million farmers with less than two hectares of land would get an income of $85 a year.

Goyal announced that the measure, which will cost about $10.5 billion, would be implemented with immediate effect. “This will pave the way for them to earn a respectable living,” he said. “Such support will help them avoid indebtedness.”

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Interim Finance Minister Piyush Goyal, center, holds a briefcase containing federal budget documents with Junior Finance ministers Shiv Pratap Shukla, center right, and Pon Radhakrishnan, left, upon their arrival at the parliament house in New Delhi, India, Feb. 1, 2019. VOA

Farmers complain that a sharp decline in crop prices has hurt their incomes and driven millions into debt. Rural experts said they were not sure whether the measure will assuage disgruntled rural communities that have been demanding loan waivers and better prices for their produce.

The government also announced a pension scheme of about $40 a month for nearly 100 million poor workers in the country’s vast unorganized sector and tax breaks for the middle classes.

The welfare measures come as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party tries to address rising discontent in the country — there is growing anger in rural areas over falling crop prices and widespread worries that his government has failed to create jobs to meet the needs of the country’s huge young population.

The Bharatiya Janata Party recently lost elections in three heartland states, raising concerns it could struggle to win a majority in the upcoming elections. Modi had sailed to power in 2014 on the promise of creating millions of jobs.

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, center, is garlanded by BJP leaders on the first day of the two-day Bharatiya Janata Party national convention in New Delhi, Jan. 11, 2019. VOA

Although economic growth numbers have been good, lack of jobs has emerged as the biggest challenge for Modi. A report in the Business Standard newspaper says a government survey that has not been released pegs the unemployment rate at a 45-year high of 6.1 percent.

Expressing optimism that “India is solidly back on track and marching towards growth and prosperity,” Goyal said that infrastructure projects such as building roads in rural areas will boost employment.

The opposition Congress Party slammed the income support of $85 a year announced for farmers as inadequate. Saying that it is not going to be transformational, senior party leader Shashi Tharoor tweeted, “₹6000 [6,000 rupees, or $84] in income support for farmers boils down to ₹500 [500 rupees, or $7] per month. Is that supposed to enable them to live with the honor and dignity?”

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The Congress Party is also trying to woo voters with the promise of a minimum income for the poor if it wins the upcoming general election. The BJP has dismissed the pledge as unaffordable, while economists have expressed concern that the “competitive populism” by India’s two main parties ahead of general elections could strain the country’s finances.

The government said the fiscal deficit this year will rise from 3.3 percent to 3.4 percent due to the outlay for the income scheme for farmers. (VOA)