Though the mood is upbeat in the Congress camp after the party’s emphatic win in Karnataka, what has acted as a spoiler is the recent sacking of two senior UPA ministers, Pawan Kumar Bansal and Ashwani Kumar, over charges of corruption and misuse of public office.
Apparently under intense political pressure, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sacked the two ministers, but he himself has now fallen in the Opposition’s line of fire for acting too late and wasting Parliament’s precious time.
For the BJP, which was recently thrown out of power in its only bastion in South India, the ‘Railgate’ and ‘Coalgate’ issue has come as a God send opportunity to settle scores with the Congress-led ruling disposition at the Centre.
The main Opposition party, which has been crying hoarse that ‘consequences should follow’ after the twin sacking, knows that it is the right time to hit the government, already battered by a series of scams. With its electoral drubbing in Karnataka, after Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, the BJP hopes to continue its tirade against the Congress by pressing for the PM’s resignation.
It can be said that the BJP has so far failed to make political gains from the UPA government’s failure to stem corruption and scams. But with the Lok Sabha elections fast approaching and Assembly elections due in ten states, the Opposition will not want the issue of corruption to die down. And this could probably trigger more disruptions in Parliament and the delay in passing of several important legislations.
Ironically, the man who has suffered the most from the recent controversies is undoubtedly Dr Manmohan Singh, whose reputation in the last lap of his second term as PM has taken a serious beating. The Opposition, along with the media, is now taking credit for compelling the government to sack two senior UPA ministers, has spared no time in tagging Dr Singh as the leader of corrupt ministers.
Though the Prime Minister sacked Bansal and Kumar following express orders from a pro-active Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who realized that any further dragging the foot on the issue would seriously dent the party’s image, the fact that he was initially protective of the two has gone against him.
It is no secret that the two ministers were removed only after Sonia Gandhi intervened and met Manmohan Singh, apprising him of the fact that any further dithering might irreparably damage the Congress` and the government`s image.
This is not the first time that the PM has come under the Opposition scanner for his inaction over issues of utmost concerns. On several occasions in the past too, he has faced humiliation at the Opposition’s hand for being a mute spectator to the alleged wrongdoings of his colleagues.
Dr Manmohan Singh might have acted against the two ministers, sending the message that his government and the Congress party is not soft on corruption but it is unlikely to convince an unrelenting Opposition which wants the PM’s head in lieu of allowing work in Parliament.
Though the Parliament has been adjourned sine die but the Opposition will certainly demand answers from PM and question his continuation in the esteemed office. The other question that the Opposition is bound to ask is – the continuance in office of the Attorney General, G Vahanvatti, and top ranking PMO and Coal Ministry officials, who allegedly colluded with the former Union Law Minister in ‘changing the heart’ of the CBI’s coal scam probe report.
Whether Dr Singh will be able to insulate himself from the Opposition attack - that he knew everything about what his ministers were doing - or will he demit his office is still unknown, but his image as a weak PM has only got validated.
The Supreme Court’s ‘caged parrot’ remark for the CBI and its scathing criticism of the government for misusing the probe agency for political gains has also come as a major embarrassment for the Prime Minister.
What has further dented Dr Singh’s image of a ‘clean and honest leader’ is the alleged cover-up by Ashwani Kumar who tampered with the portions of the CBI report on coal blocks allocation to apparently protect his boss under the pretext of correcting grammatical errors.
Congress might have swung into action to prevent further loss of creditability and a dent in popular perception about its government, but enough damage has already been done to its image. One can say that the second term of the UPA government has not been very pleasant, productive and commendable.
And for someone credited to have laid the foundation for a free economy and its liberalization, the tragedy of being an ‘accidental prime minister’ and carrying the burden of being a weak leader of corrupt politicians is more punishing than rewarding.