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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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Will Congress Party be Able to Survive in Future in Face of Modi Onslaught?

It was India’s “Grand Old Party.” The Congress Party ruled the country for 55 out of 71 years since independence

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From left, Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi, her son and party President Rahul Gandhi, and former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh attend a Congress Working Committee meeting in New Delhi, May 25, 2019. VOA

It was India’s “Grand Old Party.” The Congress Party ruled the country for 55 out of 71 years since independence. But following the party’s crushing electoral debacle for a second time, there are questions about its future as the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty at its helm is unable to counter the most powerful leader India has produced in decades: Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Contrary to expectations, India’s mammoth general election turned out to be virtually a no-contest between Modi and Congress Party president Rahul Gandhi as it became a presidential-style battle.

“It is not what went wrong with the Congress, it is more of a story of what went right for Prime Minister Modi. He stood as a tall leader, as an achiever, as somebody who understood people’s aspirations,” says political commentator Rasheed Kidwai, who has authored a biography of Rahul Gandhi’s mother, Sonia Gandhi. On the other hand, “Rahul Gandhi is temperamentally not a power wielder. He is a trustee of power.”

The sixth member of the Nehru Gandhi family to lead the party, Rahul is often seen as a “reluctant politician”, despite his spirited campaign to revive the party and challenge Modi after its rout in 2014.

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India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves toward his supporters during an election campaign rally in New Delhi, May 8, 2019. VOA

Gandhi’s rallies drew crowds, but his efforts to project Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party as a threat to India’s secular traditions or to highlight issues of economic distress failed to resonate. His attempts to nail him for corruption in a deal to buy Rafale French fighter jets fell flat. His promise of a minimum wage for India’s poorest families was met with skepticism, even among the poor.

On the other hand, Modi, successfully wooed voters with his message of strident nationalism and subtle appeal to the majority Hindu community. Along with it, there was another theme: he projected himself as the humble son of a tea seller, a self made man who fought all odds to reach the top post in contrast to what he called the “entitled” Gandhi who had inherited the mantle of leadership of the Congress Party. It drew cheers from the country’s emerging middle and lower-middle classes, exhausted with dynastic politics.

The Congress Party’s tally of 52 seats in parliament was only a notch higher than the 44 seats it won in 2014 in the 545-member parliament. The party’s candidates returned empty-handed in half the Indian states and in several others the party only mustered a single digit tally.Modi’s BJP won 303 seats.

The scale of its losses not just crushed hopes the Congress Party would either lead a credible challenge to Modi or return as invigorated opposition – it once again raised questions over the leadership of the Gandhi family.

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The sixth member of the Nehru Gandhi family to lead the party, Rahul is often seen as a “reluctant politician”, despite his spirited campaign to revive the party and challenge Modi after its rout in 2014. VOA

Rahul Gandhi has offered to resign, but expectedly the party that has no second rung of leadership has turned it down. “The party will fulfill its role as a strong opposition. We need Rahul Gandhi to lead us in these challenging times,” Congress Party spokesman Randeep Surjewala said after a meeting of the party’s senior leaders on the weekend.

Rahul Gandhi also lost the Amethi constituency the party had held for 50 years in Uttar Pradesh state. In another humiliating blow for the Gandhi family, his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who was appointed in a senior post to revive the party, failed to make an impact. Rahul’s mother, Sonia Gandhi, won her party’s only seat in the state.

Rahul Gandhi’s victory in another constituency in South India means he will continue to be a lawmaker. Dynastic politics is not limited to the Congress Party: lawmakers from political families are a routine feature of Indian politics. But political commentators say in an era showing a preference for strong, populist leaders, Modi was the clear victor.

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here are questions about its future as the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty at its helm is unable to counter the most powerful leader India has produced in decades: Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Wikimedia Commons

“There is a new sense of nationalism sweeping across many conventional democracies. There is a yearning for a strong leader that captures the public imagination,” according to political analyst Ajoy Bose. “I don’t really see the conventional Congress Party or the conventional leadership mounting a challenge to Modi. He has completely taken the country by storm.”

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Gandhi tried to give a positive message after the party’s rout. “We have a different vision of India [from Modi]”, said the head of the party that has long projected itself as a defender of India’s minorities, such as Muslims who worry about religious polarization and a rise in hate crimes since Modi came to power. “There is no need to be afraid. We will continue to work hard and we will eventually win.”

But it may be difficult to reinvent what analysts call a “fading party.” They say Modi’s BJP now occupies the dominant political space that the Congress party did for decades. “Congress is going to get reduced to, you know, like the Liberals did in Britain,” says Rasheed Kidwai. (VOA)