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

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ManMohan

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 amulyaganguli@gmail.com)

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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)