Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Congress should shun its decency.....and fight dirty.

The UPA government has been found wanting in its response to the several recent attacks made on it by the opposition, media and activists. It seems to have lost its political acumen if its reactions to these attacks are analyzed. It’s forgotten that Indian politics remains goonda politics and the response required to goonda politics is a tough punch on the opposition’s chin; today’s not the time to follow the Gandhian dictum of offering the other cheek when the first one has been struck. Today is the time to hit back.

Over the last 15 years or so, since Sonia has taken over the reigns of the Congress, it has become a bit too decent.....its top leaders are too gentle and soft-spoken. If it had been the Congress of the past, it would have fought hard and cut its opposition down to size. But under Sonia, the Congress’s responses have been quiet and dignified......and in a country not known for political dignity, these responses have been construed as a sign of weakness. Sonia has been over-concerned about what people think of her foreign origins. And has over-corrected for this. Her foreign origin does not make her weak. It makes her strong – people love her for her European style uprightness and have voted for her twice in two successive elections. She’s made some smart moves in the past.....starting with the choice of Manmohan Singh for the PM. In spite of all the barbs that the BJP may throw at him, the PM carries immense personal credibility. She has to build on that. Then there is Rahul.....who is probably India’s most dynamic leader who himself has shunned ministerial perks and high party berths. He has a tremendous following amongst all; the young and the old, the urban and the rural. Then there are several ministers who are performing rather well: Chidambaram, Pranab Mukherjee, Ambika Soni, Kapil Sibal, Jairam Ramesh, Anand Sharma, Praful Patel. It has finally got its act together with respect to Chief Ministers.....Prithviraaj Chauhan looks like a competent leader in Maharashtra. It’s delivered really well on the economic front – our GDP has been growing at 8-9% per annum under Congress rule (it had slipped under BJP rule); our exports have surged. All this should give the Congress confidence.

The Congress needs to fight hard; from a position of confidence and strength rather than weakness. Let’s look at several political battles that it has lost recently:

1)      The 2G matter: Right at the beginning, it should have explained why the government preferred cheap licensing policies for 2G over expensive 3G-style bidding. That 2G is as basic an infrastructural need as roads and kerosene and fertilizers.....all of which are also subsidized. Keeping license fees down has helped lower telecom pricing, thus spreading the revolution to 700 million Indians. Including those who would never have been empowered by any other means. It’s given the lowest strata of society a chance to do business and earn a living. There was no scam in the 2G licensing policy itself. There was a scam in what Raja did. Favoring certain companies (even though only Rs 200 crores of money trail has so far been identified). This led to wastage of spectrum by giving it to new companies who will never be able to use it fully; Today, the big companies are starving for spectrum while the small ones are wasting it. Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Kapil Sibal tried to explain this; but were hushed into silence.....not by the opposition, but by their own party leaders, who were too decent. The Congress wanted to appear holier than stepping back....when actually it should have come forward and attacked.
2)      The Kalmadi affair: Before the CWG, it did the right thing in supporting Kalmadi. After the CWG, it should have removed Kalmadi immediately. Not because he’s guilty (who cares what the media thinks; in this country, we fortunately still have a judiciary which decides a person’s guilt), but because they would have claimed the high ground. The party’s done the right thing now by removing him. The people of India will soon realize the unfortunate joke that has been played on them by the BJP.....the one who has taken over from Kalmadi as the IOA chief is VK Malhotra, a BJP leader! From the frying pan into the fire! Couldn’t the BJP have asked its party functionary to stay out for the moment? Why is the media not highlighting this?
3)      The Anna Hazare agitation: The Congress again has been concerned about AH’s Gandhian image and has worried about his urban appeal. It’s conceded too much ground in the process. The Congress should realize that Anna Hazare does not represent all the people of this country; only a small section of urban India. He is a well meaning man who should be heard and his inputs taken. That’s all. He’s surrounded by two known crooks and two other well meaning but misdirected people. His followers – those who assembled at Jantar Mantar – were probably all as corrupt as the politicians they were blaming. Most of them were businessmen who, like thieves, have been stealing taxes from the country. The Congress should have organized counter in the rural folks, people from lower strata..... and given them representation on the panel as well. At least these people vote; the ones who follow AH don’t even do that.
4)      The BJP’s boycott of Parliament: The Congress was again being too mindful of its manners and Parliamentary etiquette when it bowed down to the demand for a JPC in the 2G matter. It forgot that the JPC was purely a political insult the BJP was wreaking on the Congress. If it had fought the issue politically from the beginning, the JPC demand would long have been taken away. It lost ground unnecessarily.

The people of India are not fools.....they realize the compulsions of coalition politics.....after all, no one wants elections all the time. They will punish the DMK for the mess it has created, but spare the Congress if it maintains its own integrity. The people also realize that the BJP is no different. Its own record of Karnataka pulls it into a pit. Its trophy CM Narendra Modi is a virulent Hindutva proponent; self limiting in his own growth prospects. MP, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Bihar, Chhatisgarh all feature amongst the top-most corrupt states and all of them have been ruled by BJP for some time now. Hat’s off to BJP for projecting itself as a viable alternative to the Congress.....but it has partly the decency of the Congress to thank for this!

The Congress should focus on what it does best. Economic growth. Inclusive economic growth. Economic reforms. Aam Aadmi schemes. A liberal secular culture. This is why people voted it to power for a 2nd term. This is why it won most of the cities (except Ahmedabad and Chennai). This is where it scores over the opposition; People in this country want economic progress; and can live with a bit of problems along the way. The Congress stood for economic progress. That’s what it should go back to.

The real truth is that the Congress is suffering from too much decency. It needs to remember that politically, India is still a jungle and its responses need to be in keeping with this reality. The BJP is an aggressive bully.....and it needs to battle a bully by appropriate means. It needs to realize that being loud and filthy is part of Indian politics; the gentleness of Sonia and the PM are a little out of whack; the Congress needs to fight dirty. It must stay focused on its economic agenda.....People will vote the Congress out of power if it fails them on economic growth; not because of the extraneous factors that are being raised these days.

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