Thursday, May 14, 2009


Date: Sun, 3 May 2009 18:11:16 +0000

Do the job yourself, Sonia By Aditya Sinha, Editorial, NIE
02 May 2009 02:13:00 AM IST
Prakash Karat in Kancheepuram on Thursday said that the kickbacks in the Bofors deal were small compared to the corruption taking place today; he singled out the ministers from Tamil Nadu, and added that one lakh crore had been swindled from the ministry of telecom alone. The other evening, a twenty-something woman yawned at the mention of Bofors. In fact, if you listened to Opposition leaders, they were not so agitated about the failure by successive governments to hunt down the Rs 64 crore, as about the repeated misuse of the CBI. Thus, Bofors does not matter.

Yet the Quattrocchi episode coincided with a change in the public attitude towards the Congress party’s prospects in these elections. While some felt the predictions of a Congress comeback were déjà vu — didn’t we hear the similar predictions five years ago when the NDA was in power — others have been confident that the Congress would get 15-odd seats more than the BJP and cobble together a government with the help of its prodigal friends in the Left. This confidence ignores two facts: one, that the regional parties will win a lot of seats, once again turning on its head the political dualism prevalent in our metros; and two, the Congress itself is not keen on forming government and instead is projecting Rahul Gandhi as its candidate for Leader of Opposition.

All this confidence in the Congress suddenly evaporated. Everyone interpreted the Quattrocchi episode to mean that Congress is itself panicky about losing power. Bureaucrats in Delhi are reportedly preparing themselves for new political masters, distancing themselves from the present ones, or trying to get parked at statutory bodies where fixed tenures will prevent them from being shunted to a “hardship” posting. Diplomats are extra curious, sniffing for scraps of information, unable to wait another fortnight till counting.

Yet if Bofors does not matter, how can its resurfacing cause such an upheaval in Delhi? Perhaps it has to do with Maharashtra.

The word from the ground is that the Congress is going to suffer heavy losses, and that the opposition may end up winning around 30 of the 48 Lok Sabha seats.

This would be a blow for the ruling party whose only other sure hopes of winning seats in the double digits are in Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Rajasthan. The bureaucracy, whose network is nationwide, appears to have understood this. The one branch of government which has a presence throughout India is the Intelligence Bureau, and the IB is rumoured to have assessed that the Congress party will be lucky if it touches 100 seats.

Now before you go blaming it all on the Congress president and her kids, consider that elections are ordinarily a referendum on the outgoing regime. We have heard, ad nauseam, about how Manmohan Singh is a gentleman, an honourable man, etc. Which is wonderful, except that he is not a hero in a Jane Austen novel, but occupier for five years of a public office in which the primary job is political management. Manmohan Singh is not dumb: on the job he learnt that no matter how much power he had, it all derived from his party president. Yet he did not use this knowledge of his limited political power to do his job effectively; rather, he used the knowledge to avoid doing his job at all.

As Karat pointed out, Manmohan Singh’s only achievement was the nuclear deal which, surreally, the Congress party is deafeningly silent about. Most would agree with Karat’s assessment. What does this tell us? The common excuse for the deal’s absence as a poll issue is that it does not resonate with the average voter. This is bunkum, of course, because it was sold in Parliament as a deal that would solve India’s energy problems; that the Kalavatis of the real India would have an easier life once the 24-hour nuclear power switch was turned on. Both rural and urban voters relate to power issues. So if it is untrue that it does not resonate, then the Congress party is silent about the nuclear deal for another reason: because it could not sell the deal, and instead, it bought the votes to pass it through Parliament.

Manmohan Singh could have sold it if he had not avoided doing his job as a political manager of the nation. This column has previously felt that he could have co-opted the BJP — which now says it will honour the nuclear deal – into the deal-making and deal-passing process. Had he done so, the deal would have passed comfortably, and it could have been sold as a poll issue to the Kalavatis of India; plus, the BJP would have lost some of its sting. Yet he did not.

Manmohan’s only achievement is a massive non-achievement and it makes you wonder what drove him so passionately to seal the deal. Perhaps it is that though a politician has to be pragmatic, Manmohan Singh sees a virtue in being a technocrat — to the extent that technocracy is his ideal, in the way communism or fascism have been ideals. So righteous has he been about being a technocrat that he even refused to become a Lok Sabha member the five long years he was prime minister.

This might sound like misplaced political philosophy, but the voter understands it in his/her own way. Politics in our country means balancing and compromising between regions and castes; the worship of technocrats and CEOs is best left to books and films and newspapers. Or, to look at it differently, each voter in each corner of India wants to feel like a stakeholder in governance; that each initiative the government takes has each voter in mind — even if it does not directly impact a particular voter’s daily life. An example of this kind of participation is Kashmir: an eventual settlement of the issue will send a message to minorities around the country about the nation’s willingness to accommodate their aspirations. An example of Manmohan Singh’s idea of participative governance: the kind of arm-twisting that the Tamil Nadu chief minister does to obtain lucrative ministries for his lackeys and relatives.
Thus Manmohan’s brand of politics is derided by Karat, and this is probably why he is reviled by our middle-class. Yet Karat speaks the truth about power in India, no matter how antediluvian his ideology may seem. If the voters do deal a negative referendum on the tenure of Manmohan Singh, it will be because of the very truths Karat has spoken on the campaign trail. A costly lesson is in store for those who run the Congress party. Next time, they ought to appoint a politically savvy prime minister.
Or better yet, don’t leave the job to anyone else
About The Author:

Aditya Sinha is the Editor-in-Chief of The New Indian Express and is based in Chennai

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