The Congress party does not want to come back to power in 2014. At least so it seems. Otherwise, why else would it act the way it is acting right now? Why else would it turn complacent? Why else would it stay away from the ‘aam aadmi’ in whose very name it got elected? Why else would it sleep in its ivory tower?
It seems that the Congress has been afflicted with an auto-immune disorder that is causing it to be in a perennial self-destructive mode. Manmohan Singh may dodge genuine questions by blaming the opposition for its current mess, but everybody except perhaps the Congressmen know that this is not true. The opposition too is equally, if not more, inept and indifferent to the concerns of the common man. Moreover, the opposition does not need to do anything when they are getting everything on their platter. First, the Congress is doing all the wrongs that it can possibly do. Second, where the Congress leaves a gap, people like Anna step in to help them.
As much implausible and inexplicable as it may seem to any rational thinking mind, the reality remains that the Congress is caught between a hard place and a rock, ironically, of its own making. One need not go far back in history to prove this. A recap of events of the recent past shall suffice. UPA-II has been hit by a series of scams like CWG, Adarsh Housing and 2G Spectrum allocation, to name a few. What has been the Congress’ response? An endorsement of A Raja by none other than the Prime Minister, who is ironically the Congress’ exhibit of honesty. Kapil Sibal, a senior member of the Cabinet, even went on to say that there was no loss to the exchequer due to 2G spectrum allocation. Ultimately, the government had to bow down to public pressure and the legal framework, but only when it was too late to take any credit for.
Next came the Anna movement. The government could have doused the fire in the initial stages but, what it did was typical. It let the movement spread in April, 2011 in the hope that the movement would die down soon. It was oblivious to the public mood and the movement became a household name. The government woke up and invited members of the civil society to be a part of the Lokpal Bill Drafting Committee. Its intentions were still far from noble. In its trademark condescending attitude, it thought that the people can be fooled into accepting a toothless Bill. This was not to happen. Having burnt its fingers once was not enough. The government added fuel to the fire by manhandling people gathered at Baba Ramdev’s fast. The government’s flip-flops of welcoming Baba Ramdev and then rejecting him, arresting Anna Hazare and then releasing him, did it no good.
Congress is synonymous with the Gandhi family. If Sonia Gandhi was away during the Anna crisis then what did its heir apparent, who is time and again endorsed by many Congressmen, do? Sleep walk through the crisis only to mumble a few words in the Parliament many days later. What happened to this self-proclaimed messiah of the ‘aam aadmi’?
The Congress is a master at procrastination. The Telangana protests are a befitting example. The government has been going back and forth on its promises. It will keep doing this till the whole state of Andhra Pradesh gets burned. Brand ‘Hyderabad’ has already taken a beating in business circles.
The latest round of Pranab-Chidambaram tussle paints a very sorry picture of the Congress. The letter in question could have gone unnoticed had the Congress not taken a week to think of what to do. It took them a series of meetings with Sonia Gandhi to come up with a few sentences! Pranab Mukherjee and P Chidambaram are bigwigs in the Congress and the former is considered Congress’ Man Friday. Inspite of all their political experience and intelligence, they could not fathom that they need to show solidarity to the public at large at the first whiff of any tiff? And, after over a week when they did address the media together, they did so with such sad and sullen faces that the whole purpose gets defeated. It seemed like two quarrelling kids were reprimanded by their mother and ordered to shake hands, much to their dismay.
UPA-II has many achievements up its sleeve like the Right to Education and NREGA. But, what is happening on the ground? The common man, especially the poor, does not understand any policy till he experiences it.
In this day and age of instant and continuous communication, Congress is conspicuous by its absence. Whatever little they communicate when pushed to the wall, is either to deny the existence of any problem or to point fingers at the BJP. Moreover, it is constantly running down its PM. Strangely, if the Congress does anything good, the Gandhis are given credit and when anything goes wrong, it must be the PM’s doing.
The PM has reshuffled his Cabinet twice in the recent past but, both have been a damp squib. Did the PM even try to explain why he did what he did? Was it not important to dispel any misgivings? Jairam Ramesh, the former Union Minister of Environment and Forests, worked hard to bring some attention to the oft-neglected nature and environment. Instead of encashing on the hard work that he was striving to do, the Congress let the opposition play the anti-industrialisation or the anti-progress card against him.
A week back, the Planning Commission came up with an income threshold of Rs 32 and Rs 26 as the daily income level in urban and rural areas, respectively for classifying people as Below Poverty Line. There are many myths floating around like Rs 32 is a family’s daily income. On the other hand, the truth is that this figure shall get multiplied by the number of family members. Though even after this multiplication the figure would not have become palatable but, at least it would have allayed one doubt, if not all. Instead of explaining the rationale, the government tried to distance itself by saying that the Planning Commission is a separate body. Later, the latter distanced itself from the figures, adding to the confusion.
The effectiveness of a message depends on many factors like the timing, medium of communication and the messenger. In the age of the Internet and 24X7 news channels, news travels faster than light. So, it is very important that the right information is communicated fast. The Congress somehow likes to maintain some distance from its people. Moreover, whenever it decides to communicate, it does through the comforts of a TV studio or a press conference, at times to a self-selected few. At those rare occasions when people like Rahul Gandhi do meet the ‘aam aadmi’, they make superfluous promises and claims. His visits to Bhatta Parsaul and to the tribals of Orissa are two such examples.
The best, in fact the worst, part of the Congress’ communication strategy is the choice of its messengers. Digvijay Singh can say anything anytime about anybody including the PM and get away with it. Then, there is the no-holds-barred Mani Shankar Aiyar who thinks high of nobody except himself. The latest spokesperson of the Congress is Renuka Chowdhary, a lady who criticises anybody who tries to raise a finger at the Congress. She never shudders to openly declare repeatedly that irrespective of what people say, the party knows what they are doing. A spokesperson is the representative of a party, whose responsibility is to address the concerns of the common man and not reprimand them for raising concerns. Some humility and introspection would do her no harm.
Industry confidence is at a low, India’s global image is taking a beating, inflation is at its peak, unemployment is high, criminals are becoming bolder, the common man is despondent and the list goes on. If the government is asked about these concerns, it would say yet again that the world economy and the opposition are to blame. When was the ‘bad’ a benchmark anyways?
It is a given that the Congress is on the path to destruction. What is intriguing is that the Congress has some genuine and talented people, who are intelligent enough to understand the current crisis but, what is stopping them from taking action is a mystery? Maybe the Congress does want to go on a sabbatical in 2014. Maybe because Rahul Gandhi needs more time. Maybe because Sonia Gandhi cannot think of any other Manmohan-like candidate. Pranab Mukherjee, P Chidambram, Kapil Sibal, Salman Khurshid and the like may be too assertive for her to handle. Maybe because Pranab Mukherjee hinted at being interested in becoming the President rather than the PM in 2014.
Maybe the Congress has realized that being in opposition is easier, where all one has to do is to find faults at whatever the government does, taking a moral high ground. Maybe it wants to show to the people that the BJP would be no better, if in power.
(Shobhika Puri is a freelance writer. The views expressed are personal.)