LITTLE SOLACE FOR GOVERNMENT
Aside from renewing contacts, networking with fellow netas and partaking of local hospitality, with a bit of sight-seeing thrown in, gains from most political jamborees, such as the one in Jaipur, usually remain illusory. Yes, the media inevitably focuses a little more on the party and takes note of various statements and resolutions emanating from the venue. Local hosts try and exploit the presence of senior leaders to drum up support for themselves, not the party. Invariably, such gatherings conclude with a public meeting addressed by top leaders.
Given that fresh Assembly elections are due in Rajasthan later this year, and Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot faces an uphill task, the choice of Jaipur for the Congress' Chintan Shivir was well-conceived. Having come to power in 2008 thanks to the anti-Vasundhara Raje dissidence of senior RSS/BJP leaders, Gehlot will need all the help he can get to retain the state for the Congress. Yet, the Congress' Chinta — the "n" really being superfluous here — is unlikely to lessen a wee-bit by its deliberations at the Jaipur Shivir. The party faces ever increasing troubles in the run-up to the polls due in as many as ten states and union territories this year and the general elections next year.
It was symptomatic of the seemingly insurmountable problems that lie ahead for the Grand Old Party that on the eve of the Jaipur meet the smart-alecks in the government jacked up the price of diesel, the poor man's fuel, by nearly Rs 10 a litre. More than ever before, the aam admi relies on public transport, which, being a bulk purchaser of diesel, will have to pay the market price to the oil marketing companies. Unless various state-run transport companies are allowed to pass the burden of additional costs to the commuters, these will further sink into the red. Ditto for the goods transport, which, in turn, would result in higher retail prices. With consumer inflation already in double digits, the diesel price hike is bound to make things harder for the common man.
Quite clearly, the party is trapped in a cul-de-sac of its own making. Having created the economic mess in the last four years, it now feared that things could go out of control unless urgent corrective steps were taken immediately. P. Chidambaram's being the most forceful voice in the government and the party, he could not be unconcerned about the high fiscal deficit. The latest to warn of a downgrade of India's sovereign rating was the credit rating agency Fitch.
Unless the twin deficits are reined in, the Congress will have very little to play around with when Chidambaram presents his annual budget next month. His problem is that without the budget offering fresh goodies to the voting classes, the party can have no hope in hell of winning an adequate number of seats in the 16th Lok Sabha. A tally below 150 would make it difficult for it to reject the ambitions of the third front leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav and even Mayawati for the formation of a non-Congress, non-BJP government. But where is the money to come from for new freebies for vote-buying?
Therefore, the so-called Chintan Shivir can only result in altering internal party equations, maybe giving the Rahul Brigade a bigger say in its affairs, but it can offer little solace to the government. And on its part, there is little that the government can offer to help the Congress lull the voters into voting for it yet again after such a disastrous stint in power.
Even Chidambaram knows the terrible costs of adding further to the basket of freebies on the eve of the polls. Economic mismanagement has slowly but steadily devalued the rupee; it continues to be under pressure as foreign investors shun India. A huge outgo on the ill-conceived food entitlement scheme can worsen the nation's finances. Truly, Chidambaram has an uphill task. He has to try hard to ensure that India's sovereign rating does not get reduced to the junk status. He has also to appease the Congress leaders baying for him to open the purse-strings so that they can buy the voters and retain power for the third successive term. These are mutually contradictory objectives. No Chintan Shivir can reconcile the irreconcilables, never mind the too-clever-by-half attempts to paper over these contradictions in Jaipur. Nothing seems pink for the Congress in the Pink City and further afield in the country as a whole.
WANTED: A BROTHER LIKE RAVANA
Internet offers instant comment on what is happening around you. The modern take on the Ramayana post the Delhi gang rape is not without a message.
Loosely translated, it says an expectant mother asked her daughter whether she wanted her to bear a brother or a sister. The daughter said a brother. What should he be like, asked the mother. Like Ravana. A shocked mother shouted while her father glowered, but the daughter stood her ground. She explained that if Ravana could forfeit his kingdom to avenge the insult to his sister, and if he could kidnap Sita without even touching her, shouldn't every girl in this age wish for a brother like Ravana? Her parents were rendered speechless. Perfect logic, isn't it?
CRIME OF SILENCE
And another internet joke with a political message. After Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit did her bit to assuage the popular anger following the recent gang rape in Delhi by announcing a helpline, Number 181, for women in trouble, one of the first to call was the wife of a high dignitary. The conversation went something like this:
Caller: Hello, I want you to record a crime of silence against my husband...
Operator: Madam, what did you say, crime of violence?
Caller: No. No. Crime of SILENCE. Even at home, he does not speak...
Samajh Gaye Na?