M D Nalapat
- More than anything done by an opposition party, it is the errors committed by the ruling party that ensure a smooth trajectory for the former. The Congress Party ought to have changed its Prime Minister latest by 2011,when it was obvious to all except the coterie around Sonia Gandhi that Manmohan Singh was discredited across the country for his unwillingness or inability to run an effective and clean government. Had Rahul Gandhi been appointed as his replacement and done away with the old team of ministers, choosing instead fresh talent untainted by association with the past government, the Congress Party would have given a much tougher fight to the BJP than proved the case in May 2014.
Although Sonia Gandhi was the object of considerable public anger because of the perception that her party was indulgent towards the corrupt, such a dislike did not percolate downwards to her two children Rahul and Priyanka, both of whom remained popular. Indeed, in the 2009 Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament) elections, it was the repeated presenting of Rahul and Priyanka on televison during the campaign that ensured a promise of change, especially when compared to the 79-year old L K Advani, the BJP warhorse who was that party’s Prime Ministerial candidate. Had it been Narendra Modi instead, the BJP would have emerged as the single largest party in the Lok Sabha during the 2009 polls, although the Congress-led alliance may still have won enough seats to rule for the next five years.
The mistake (of continuity rather than change) committed by the Congress leadership was capitalized on by the BJP in 2013,when the party ensured that Narendra Modi would be its standard bearer for the 2014 polls. The Congress Party had tried through the government it controlled to send Modi to prison on a miscellany of charges, but failed due to lack of evidence. Of course, this did not stop the then ruling party from conducting a trial by media of Modi throughout its decade in office, in the process giving him a boost because of the incessant focus of the Congress Party on Modi, especially after he won a third term in Gujarat in 2012 and established his hold among voters.
Narendra Modi swept to power promising transparency in governance as well as accountability. It was expected that the processes of government would be made more open to the public, as that is the best way of reducing corruption. However, as yet the Right to Information. Act still suffers from several infirmities in its implementation, including the appointment of retired civil servants as Information Commissioners and even as Chief Information Commissioners (CIC), despite their bias in favour of secrecy. The present CIC, for example, seems more determined to conceal than to reveal the details of the functioning of government.
Across the board, including in such fields as Education where greater autonomy is vital for innovation, controls that were put in place under Manmohan Singh have largely been continued and in some cases, expanded. Taxes have gone up despite commodity prices going down to very low levels. As a consequence, both the middle class as well as the business community have begun to distance themselves from the BJP-led government, thereby weakening the party as it prepares for the 2019 polls. And as for accountability, this seems to have been forgotten in the case of those who were running the central government during 2004-2014 to a barrage of criticism from the BJP about their corrupt activities. Not a single.
First Information Report has been filed against any ex-minister at the central level by the Modi government, and even the few cases instituted under Manmohan Singh (as for example against former Telecom Minister Dayanidhi Maran) seem to have lost steam. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has himself been given a clean chit by the Modi government, thereby raising the question : was the BJP wrong in calling Manmohan Singh the fount of corruption? A few small fry at the state level from the previous regime have been targetted, mainly because of rivalry with BJP office-bearers in their respective states. Overall, the new government has given a free pass to its predecessor, and because of this, the Congress Party in particular has bounced back to life. If in 1978 it was the (ineffectual,almost comic) prosecution of Indira Gandhi that have her back her popularity, this time around it has been the lack of action by the BJP that has ensured that the mist of corruption surrounding Congress President Sonia Gandhi and her party has largely cleared.
Ironically, it has been an individual who has not even been made a Member of Parliament by the BJP (much less a minister), who has managed to throw a dart at the Congress leadership. Subramanian Swamy filed his case against Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and three others in 2012,when Manmohan Singh was Prime Minister. He joined the BJP only in 2013,and once in power, the party has done nothing to assist him in pursuing the case against the ruling family of the Congress Party. However, Rahul Gandhi has used the fact of Swamy being a BJP National Executive (a toothless body) member to allege that the party is behind his efforts at indicting him and his mother for the takeover of a company through moneys received from the Congress Party. The Modi government has adopted the positrion that both the UPA leadership as well as its own key people are spotless (the BJP rejected very substantive allegations against key individuals as baseless without offering any reason why such a clean chit was justified).
However, rather than ensure Congress cooperation in the passing of legislation, such a policy has boosted the party, especially now that it is under the control of Rahul Gandhi, whose clear mission is to ensure that the Modi government fail to deliver results, and thereby come to grief in 2019. Rahul’s ally has been the BJP, a party that has systematically destroyed the goodwill won by Narendra Modi for it in 2014 by filling the government with the same faces of the defeated past, and by refusing to enforce accountability for the sins of the Manmohan Singh government. Candidate Modi gor the benefit of the mistakes made by the Congress Party from 2009 onwards. Now Rahul Gandhi is getting the benefit of the mistakes made by the BJP in his campaign to ensure that Narendra Modi have only a single term in office.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.