Terms like government in the ICU, government on borrowed time, government lurching from one crisis to another, one of the most corrupt governments ever is being increasingly used for the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre. And the latest crisis pertaining to Pawan Kumar Bansal and Ashwani Kumar has made it worse for the ruling combine, with many questioning its moral authority to continue in power and others predicting an early General Election.
Let us accept it. It does not happen every day that the government of the day has to sack two of its high-profile Cabinet ministers in a day for misusing their position and authority. And any government who has to do so or rather is forced to do so is definitely facing a serious credibility crisis and probably does not know what the road ahead is for them.
Given the incriminating evidence that has been tumbling out every day as far as former Union Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal is concerned, whose nephew was caught by the CBI accepting a bribe for appointment in Railway Board and given the displeasure shown by the Supreme Court when it came to light that the former Law Minister Ashwani Kumar had vetted the coal scam probe report, the continuance in office by both of them had become more or less untenable. The Opposition too had been relentlessly asking for their heads to roll and had not let the Parliament function due to government’s refusal to do so.
Now, with both the ministers gone, the Opposition is claiming the high moral ground and is justifying their demand. And, having smelt blood, they have begun to gun for none other than the Prime Minister and hold him culpable for Ashwani Kumar having summoned the CBI director and deleting a portion of the coal report which was supposedly pointing fingers at the PM, before it was shown to the judges.
If this is the case, then the Congress’ cup of woes is far from over and it may just have to ready itself to do more fire-fighting in the days ahead. The Prime Minister must be a very worried man at the moment. Yes, the custodian of a billion plus people of this country definitely has some serious explaining to do. He cannot remain silent on every issue and consider it his virtue. He must come out in the open and explain his exact position to the people of India.
Manmohan Singh has had an image of an honest politician till now. But, it will not be misplaced to say that the same image has taken a certain amount of beating in recent times. To be honest is one thing and to look the other way is another.
In the case of A Raja, it was said that the former telecom minister acted on his own. Also, the Congress insulated itself from the 2G spectrum scam by saying that one of its allies had indulged in impropriety and not the party. However, now that ministers from the Congress have been caught with their hands in the till, the heat will naturally be felt by the government of the day and its Prime Minister. If you don’t know what is happening in your house and under your nose then either you are incompetent or complicit in what is happening.
What made matters worse this time around was the fact that an impression was created that the PM was trying to protect both Bansal and Ashwani Kumar, when a section of the Congress party was in favour of them being sacked. No wonder the motive of the PM, who takes a lot of pride in his integrity, started being questioned. What also did not augur well for the ruling party was the fact that for the first time in UPA’s nine-year history, a rift of sorts was reported between Manmohan Singh and the Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
As per reports, Sonia wanted the two controversial ministers to be sacked but the PM was reluctant to do so, as both Bansal and Ashwani were said to be close to him. It is also being said that finally, Sonia put her foot down and prevailed upon the PM to dispense with the two of them, as their continuance in office was seriously denting the party’s image. Talks have also been doing the rounds that the PM was worried that if Ashwani Kumar was stripped of his portfolio, then he would be the next obvious target of the Opposition vis-à-vis the coal scam as he was in-charge of portfolio when the allocations were made.
Whatever the truth may be, it cannot be denied that an already beleaguered Congress’ image has further nosedived in the past one week and they may not be able to recover from it completely before the General Elections. Both Ashwani and Bansal were ultimately sacked, but if the government had acted earlier, they could have salvaged some of the high moral ground in the eyes of the public.
Maybe, the Congress wanted to brazen the crisis out as they did not want to give in meekly to the Opposition and accept wrongdoing by their men. The BJP had threatened a massive protest across the country in the days ahead to highlight the misdemeanors of the Congress. So, the party was in a way forced to act in order to lessen the damage already done. Nonetheless, the delay in getting rid of the two ministers has definitely cost the Congress dearly and in cricketing terms, the party is surely on the backfoot at the moment.
Given the above scenario it can be safely said that the remaining term of UPA-2 is as good as over. If this impasse continues then the people of this country can expect no work to be done in the Monsoon Session of Parliament also, even though the Congress is desperate to push through its populist bills, the Food Bill and the Land Acquisition Bill, so that it has something to take to the electorate in the General Elections.
So what are the options left for the Congress? With its credibility at an all time low and with allies leaving it at regular intervals and with Mulayam and Mayawati, on whose support, the government at the Centre is surviving, being as unpredictable as ever, should the Congress push for early elections and let the people of this country decide its fate? The strategist of the Congress party must be working overtime to contain the battering that the party has been receiving for some time now and maybe this is one option that they would be mulling.
Post Script: It is ironical that in the week that the Congress party was euphoric about the victory in Karnataka, it has had to face severe attack by parties cutting across political lines for corruption and non-action, the very same reason due to which the BJP lost in the state elections. The paradox of it all is hard to miss and it can be said that the sheen of the win in the southern state was somewhat lost for the Congress due to being hit like a thunderbolt by Railgate and Coalgate.