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How Congress has failed Manmohan Singh in order to appease crown prince Rahul Gandhi



By Amulya Ganguli 

The Narendra Modi government’s chief economic advisor, Arvind Subramanian, has said that the rate of poverty reduction from 2005-06 to 2011-12 was the fastest in the country’s history. The reason, according to him, was “fast GDP growth”.

Rarely before has the Manmohan Singh government received such a handsome compliment on its performance. Although it has been known that an estimated 138 million people were lifted from below the poverty line when the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was in power, Subramanian’s praise is the first by someone not associated with the present government.

What is worth examining, however, is why the Congress itself has been reticent about this achievement although the party’s senior general secretary, Digvijay Singh, a “loose cannon” in his own words, did acknowledge once that millions of the “poorest of the poor” had been elevated into the lower middle class category because of Manmohan Singh’s “right” policies.

Notwithstanding this realization, the Congress has generally been silent about its own government’s excellent record in the matter of poverty reduction whereas one would have thought that it would have been trumpeted by the party during and after the election campaign.

The reason for this quietness cannot be unrelated to the party’s first family’s fear that an acknowledgment of this remarkable feat will, first, turn the former prime minister into a hero at the expense of the crown prince, Rahul Gandhi, and, secondly, that it will underline the success of the reforms process.

The exaltation of the putative “regent” over the heir-apparent was evidently unacceptable to the Congress. After all, the former was only expected to keep the seat warm for the dauphin and not put up an admirable show of governance.

Moreover, the fact that the poverty reduction tapered off from 2011-12 would point to the period when Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s aggressive espousal of costly welfare programmes led to the government taking its foot off the accelerator of reforms, as the former finance minister, P. Chidambaram, has said.

It will not be besides the point, therefore, to speculate that if Sonia Gandhi hadn’t opted for the various populist measures on the advice of the left-of-centre National Advisory Council headed by her, the high growth rates would have led to further poverty reduction and, perhaps, enabled the UPA to return to power for the third time.

Yet, sadly for the party, the left-leaning ideological inclinations of the first family, and also of a sizable section of its members, led to its worst-ever defeat.

What is strange, however, is that like the proverbial Bourbons of France, the Congress seems to have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. Not only has it refused to recognize the root cause of its defeat – the folly of junking reforms – the party is now determinedly turning even more to the left in a manner which has made finance minister Arun Jaitley mock it for positioning itself on the “left of Marx”.

But the Congress will do well to remind itself that the poverty reduction began within a year of its return to power in 2004 not because it was pursuing socialistic policies, but had restarted the reforms process under its original promoter of 1991, Manmohan Singh.

What is more, the process took off although the communists, who are dead against pro-market policies, were then an ally of the government. As a result, the reforms proceeded haltingly, as when another ally, the DMK, rejected the move to disinvest the Neyvelli Lignite plant in Tamil Nadu, and subsequently when there was firm opposition by the Trinamool Congress and others to allow foreign investment in the retail sector.

Even then, notwithstanding the slow pace of reforms, the lives of the “poorest of the poor” were gradually improving as they moved up into what Modi once called the “neo-middle class” with aspirations to rise further.

The Congress, however, still appears to believe that poverty alleviation is best achieved not through economic growth, but by the distribution of doles and subsidies. Behind this belief is probably the calculation that the largesse will be seen as the bounty of the munificent dynasty which presides over the party’s destiny and that gratitude for the benevolence will translate into votes for the Congress.

It is this feudal mindset which baulked at the possibility of Manmohan Singh receiving all the applause for lowering poverty rates, thereby making it nearly impossible for Rahul Gandhi to step into his shoes, as was being speculated at the time.

It is obvious enough that the party cannot but suffer if the interests of a family are put above those of the organization. Its travails will be all the greater if the family members lack the intellectual acuity required at a time of economic change, which is reflected in the expansion of the middle class to accommodate social sections which were earlier outside its fold.

The BJP has understood the change that is taking place, which is why its government has continued to allow foreign investment in the retail sector although the party is against it. This is the difference between a political approach and one based on feudal subservience.

While Modi had the gumption to go against his party, Sitaram Yechury of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) had the honesty to admit that his party erred in opposing the nuclear deal in 2009.

The Congress, however, has only said that its defeat was the result of its failure to communicate its achievements. It is a half-truth because it is still unwilling to do so lest it should hurt Rahul Gandhi’s prospects. (IANS)

(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at

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For Modi, Road To 2019 Will Be Steeper

Perhaps the BJP's only solace at the moment is that its opponents haven't been able to get their act together

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Wikimedia
  • Many believe that Modi and BJP are now no longer is a favourable place
  • The new policies are not getting public approval
  • If situation isn’t handled carefully, 2019 elections will be steeper for BJP

For the Bharatiya Janata Party’s supporters, the growing belief that the party is no longer as favourably placed as before must be both bewildering and disheartening.

They must be wondering what could have gone wrong when the BJP was looking forward to not only a comfortable victory in 2019 but was also planning to celebrate the 75th year of India’s independence in 2022.

Is the Modi-magic vanishing?  Wikimedia Commons
Is the Modi-magic vanishing? Wikimedia Commons

The talk of a “New India” under the BJP’s near-permanent control was in the air with both Nitish Kumar and Omar Abdullah from two opposite sides of the political spectrum saying that Narendra Modi faced no challenge.

Yet, the scene has changed. What is more, it has happened so over a rather short period of time. Among the reasons for it may be the BJP’s electoral setbacks in, first, the Chitrakoot assembly byelection in Madhya Pradesh in November last year, the near-defeat it faced in the Gujarat assembly polls in the following month and finally the huge margins by which it recently lost three byelections in Rajasthan.

Before these contests, the successes of the Congress’s student wing in the Delhi University and of a leftist union in the Jawaharlal Nehru University student union elections over the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the saffron brotherhood’s student wing, were significant pointers to the emerging trends.

BJP will definitely see a tough time in 2019 elections. Wikimedia commons
BJP will definitely see a tough time in 2019 elections. Wikimedia Commons

The new scenario has now led to conjectures about a fall in the BJP’s number of Lok Sabha seats to 200/220 from the present 282 in a House of 545. Since these figures have been mentioned by a saffron scribe, it is obvious that assessments on these lines are currently on in the BJP. Another scribe has identified the absence of effective speakers other than Modi as one of the factors behind the BJP’s slide in popularity.

Perhaps one of the first to say openly that the Modi magic was fading was a Shiv Sena spokesperson, who also noted the change in Rahul Gandhi’s “body language” and his transformation into a credible leader. Not long after, the Sena decided not to align with the BJP in 2019.

Also Read: Editorial Freedom Should be used Wisely in Public Interest says PM Narendra Modi to Media

The BJP’s old ally is not the only party to begin thinking of greener pastures. The Telugu Desam Party, too, has expressed its displeasure over the “neglect” of Andhra Pradesh in the Union budget. To forestall a rupture, the BJP has offered the Shiv Sena 144 seats in Maharashtra in an assembly of 288 seats, but the generous gesture is more indicative of the BJP’s nervousness than of magnanimity.

So, what went wrong for a party which was riding high during the first three years of its tenure?

First and foremost reason is its failure to usher in the promised “achhe din” or better days because of a sluggish economy. The scene might have been better but for the twin blows of demonetisation, which dealt a blow to small businesses, and the shambolic rolling out of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), which also unsettled the traders and businessmen.

It seems unlikely BJP will be able recreate its historic win in 2019 elections. Wikimedia Commons
It seems unlikely BJP will be able recreate its historic win in 2019 elections. Wikimedia Commons

The second reason is the widespread rural distress which eroded the BJP’s influence in Gujarat. As a party essentially of urban lower middle class areas, the BJP’s connection with the countryside has never been very strong. In its Jan Sangh days, the party once even forgot to adopt a resolution on agriculture till the lapse was noticed at the last minute.

Modi is now said to have sought the advice of farming experts to reach out to the cultivators. But the move is unlikely to pay immediate political dividends.

To compound the BJP’s problems, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), the Sangh Parivar’s labour wing, has raised the red flag over the “disappointing” Union budget.

Also Read: PM Narendra Modi: Government bringing Stringent Consumer Protection Law

Another explanation for the BJP’s woes is undoubtedly the inability to control the saffron goons, who have been running amok to impose their diktats on diet, inter-faith romance and film scripts, among other things.

The rampages of the cow vigilantes have hit the meat and leather industries and resulted in ageing cows being let loose by their owners to roam the countryside and city streets to forage on their own. Hence the proposal to impose a fine on the “guilty” owners.

The result is the prevalence of an atmosphere of intolerance of the kind which made a section of the intelligentsia return the awards which they had once won in protest against the deteriorating state of affairs in the country.

Prime Minister, Narendra Modi 's new policies are not being received well by the public.
Prime Minister, Narendra Modi ‘s new policies are not being received well by the public.

Perhaps the BJP’s only solace at the moment is that its opponents haven’t been able to get their act together. Moreover, the fissures in their ranks are palpable with a rift in the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) over whether to align with the Congress in an anti-BJP front, and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) teaming up with the Janata Dal (Secular) in Karnataka on the eve of the assembly elections.

There are also said to be reservations among the senior opposition leaders about accepting Rahul Gandhi as the leader of an alliance.

Karnataka will be the next big electoral battle for the BJP. If it can dislodge the ruling Congress in the state, it will be able to brush aside the party’s setbacks in Gujarat and Rajasthan. Otherwise, the road to 2019 will seem steeper. IANS