Friday, May 10, 2013

With a year to go, Congress needs a “Miller” act….

I am of course referring to the audacious, totally unexpected, and delightfully dazzling 38 ball hundred that David Miller of King’s XI Punjab made in the IPL match against the much fancied and “sitting pretty” Royal Challengers Bangalore. Not only that, if one were to break down the feat, one would realize that the real punch came in the last 21 balls, in which Miller scored some 75 odd runs. I think the Miller analogy should inspire the Congress. And give it the confidence to “change the game”!

In my opinion – and most people cannot deny this – the Congress was going along smoothly until Apri 2011 when the 1st Anna fast-farce hit the country (just so that we don’t forget…..we had a 9% GDP growth in the year that ended on March 31, 2011). That was also the time when Indian news TV channels shed the last vestiges of any ideals they had and adopted the “drama” and “crime” format of entertainment, sensationalizing everything to the hilt, giving a “ball-by-ball” commentary as it were of the Anna fast, and morphing overnight into what someone nicely said, “Horror Entertainment Channels”. The April fast was soon followed by the longer August fast-farce (Anna fasting, his followers feasting). A couple of “hit-wickets” later (Manish Tewari’s distasteful description of Anna; the police’s handling or mishandling of the Ramdev and other kerfuffles), the Congress was well and truly on the backfoot. The Congress was also bowled a barrage of bouncers and googlies by the BJP and other opposition parties – by refusing to let Parliament function, insisting on a JPC being formed only to later reject its report and also demanding the PM’s resignation for the 30th or 35th time. In the meanwhile, thanks to some brazenly unfair umpiring by the two supposedly “neutral” umpires – the politicized CAG who has made it an art of confusing policy with corruption and the SC who zealously scrapped the 122 2G licenses – the Congress was hit on the head. Now with an impossible target looming – 2014 – the Congress is looking for a Miller.

But before we come to who the Miller can be, it’s worthwhile for the owner and captain of the Congress team – Sonia Gandhi and the PM – to look at the picture from a distance and with a cool mind. The glass is definitely more than half full. The SC may have been harsh on 2G and the Ashwani Kumar episode, but the SC has also delivered a string of less-noticed “happy” decisions. The clearance given to Koodankulam should be a big boost to the PM himself who supported the plant. The over-turning of the Orissa HC decision in the Posco case also gives the central government a chance to do good. Equally, the Gujarat HC’s stinging observation against Modi (today’s TOI) that his government was protecting the guilty police officers in the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case is a setback for him. Equally, the Calcutta HC has shown its disenchantment with Mamata Banerjee. The courts have shown they are neutral, even if the CAG isn’t!

Then there is the state of the opposing team to gain from as well. The bowling side – the BJP – is clearly tired. No one wants to do the hard job of fielding….but everyone wants to bat (become the PM!). The loss in Karnataka is a body blow, and sharply reduces the chances of the NDA winning the match (2014 – without Karnataka’s strong support, the NDA is nowhere). The BJP is bound to be forced to make a compromise with corrupt Yeddy, further denting its own pseudo position on corruption. The party also recently lost Uttarakhand, thanks to its corrupt CM, Pokhriyal, there. There are charges of corruption against Raman Singh as well. And if we finally get a Lok Ayukta in Gujarat, how much longer before the truth about Gujarat comes out? Then of course there are the internal divisions in the party with a whole battalion of leaders working overtime to undermine Modi, and the internal divisions of the NDA with allies deserting the BJP faster even than the UPA’s allies are deserting it. Make no mistake – the BJP is in complete disarray.

Who can be the Miller in the Congress team? Rahul Gandhi of course. He’s the one who insisted on a “secret voting” in the Karnataka and junked the old way of appointing CMs. This simple move – sans any major publicity a la Modi by the way – has surprised everyone including partymen and media alike and earned him rich praise. The process has led to a “strong” CM, rather than a “pliable” one. The seat allocation in Karnataka also bears Rahul’s clear stamp, as candidates were chosen through an “interview” process, with Madhusudhan Mistry, Rahul’s chosen man, supervising the whole process. A similar exercise has now been started at a national level. The decision to drop Bansal and Kumar were also taken no doubt after consultation with him. The Land Acquisition Amendment bill no doubt is also Rahul’s baby. Rahul’s support for reforms – his addressing a massive lac-plus rally in Delhi – has encouraged Chidambaram and the PM to stay the course of reforms.

The Congress has no reasons to worry. It’s mature handling of foreign affairs – courageously going against the hardline recommendations of the BJP and parts of media – has yielded peace and friendship with China (read today’s TOI) and Pakistan (to the extent possible). Likewise, the speed it showed in first bringing out an ordinance on sexual crimes against women and then backing it up with legislation has been noticed by all. The economy too has turned the corner, with exports on the rise, the rupee gaining against the dollar, international commodity prices (crude in particular) falling, and inflation moderating to below-trend levels prompting the RBI to start reducing rates. The specially created Committee on Infrastructure has started clearing projects stuck for long, with the Ministry of Environment being shown its rightful lower-level place. Chidambaram and Anand Sharma are unstoppable, with both busy with “work as usual”. And before he was sacked, Bansal set the pace for the revival of the Railways. Equally, the bitter bullet of raising fuel prices has been bitten; and the positive effects are already being seen in the form of reducing subsidies. Aadhar is the new magical wand in the government’s hands to cut subsidies; allowing a new Food Security Bill to be brought in. Clearly, the Congress has a lot to fall back on. All that is needed now is great communications. Even if only half as efficient as Modi’s PR, it will do the trick!

The real truth is that a year is a long time in politics. It’s like the last five overs in an IPL match. The fate of a team can change in no time. An underdog can become the big match winner. In the Congress’s case, it has a big hitter in Rahul Gandhi who has just come to the crease. He’s stroked a few balls and scored. He can now start lofting the sixes…..and kicking some political ass as well!

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