A picture of possibilities

A picture of possibilities

By M.J. Akbar | 30 November, 2013
Voters wait to cast their ballot for the Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections, in Indore, on Monday. PTI
Those doing opinion polls report, in conversations, that the negative gap for the Congress increases sharply when the choice shifts from state to national polls.

The yin and yang of the current fighting season in Indian democracy is at eye level, but perhaps just below the radar of clarity. One wonders how many have noticed that for the very first time, in the Delhi Congress campaign, Mrs Sonia Gandhi's picture is smaller than that of Mrs Sheila Dikshit. The obvious implication is that the redoubtable Chief Minister has a far better chance of getting votes than the family which has taken control of Congress fortunes. This was evident in the embarrassing turnout at Rahul Gandhi's public meeting, where a despairing Mrs Dikshit had to exhort the thin crowd to stay on for the star turn. It was no longer an appeal for votes. It was a plea for charity.

In contrast, P. Shankar Rao, a former minister of Andhra Pradesh who doubtless has dreams of upward mobility, wants the potential state of Telangana to be named after Sonia Gandhi. He has suggested Sonia Telangana. He also wants Sonia Gandhi to be known as Telangana Talli, or Mother of Telangana, and her statue to be erected in every garden.

The only proper country named after a family is Saudi Arabia. No one has raised objections, including Saudis. One presumes no one in the Congress will find Sonia Telangana unacceptable. During the Emergency of 1975-1977, a Congress president, Dev Kant Baruah, declared that Indira [Gandhi] was India and India was Indira. He refrained from suggesting that the Constitution be amended to change India's name; but he might have done so if Indira Gandhi had won the 1977 elections.

But setting aside sycophancy, Shankar Rao's dramatic views confirm that Sonia Gandhi is a vote-winner in Telangana. The niggle is that she has competition, from the local party that has been promoting the cause of separation long before Congress latched on, so there is no chance of a sweeping victory for Sonia Gandhi in Telangana. The downside is that Congress will suffer a sweeping defeat in the rest of Andhra.

We will know the results of five Assembly elections only on 8 December and predictions are hazardous. But it is probably safe to suggest that Congress space will continue to shrink, and the decline might be more steep than the party is publicly ready to admit. The chemistry that Narendra Modi is generating with election crowds in Congress-run Rajasthan tells its own story. In private, senior Congress leaders confess that they will be relieved if Congress wins one state, possibly Chhattisgarh; Delhi would be a tremendous bonus.

This nightmare, defeat in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Delhi, has become a daytime worry. If that happens, arguments will run out, closely chased by alibis. Those doing opinion polls report, in conversations, that the negative gap for the Congress in most parts of the country increases sharply when the choice shifts from state to national polls. What can Congress do in the last lap before a very long five years finally comes to an end with the next general elections?

The first temptation will be to blame Dr Manmohan Singh, suggesting that nothing is wrong with the party and everything is wrong with a bankrupt government that permitted prices to rise. This would also shift the primary focus from corruption to the failing economy.

Corruption has beneficiaries, which can cut close to the family bone. But such an excuse works only if all you want is to buy a little time from television anchors. The voter will ask: if the government was useless why did Congress tolerate it for so long? The jibe is obvious: if the Congress cannot change the PM, the voter can. So should Sonia Gandhi name a new Prime Minister? Some Congress enthusiasts are already proposing that Rahul Gandhi should be made Prime Minister.

This would not be a problem if Congress had a simple majority in the Lok Sabha, since Dr Manmohan Singh would never be an obstacle. Any new PM will, however, require to win a vote of confidence in Parliament, unless he or she wants to be remembered as another Charan Singh, who in 1979 became PM but did not have the courage to face the House. Could Rahul Gandhi be confident of getting the necessary support from Congress allies in UPA2? This could well become the opportunity for long-suffering allies to display their resentment, as well as signal to the electorate that they may support Congress but are not acolytes.

Even a happy ally like Sharad Pawar has hinted that he might not back Rahul Gandhi as PM.

The rational option for Congress, in case the news is terrible on the 8th, would be to inform Parliament that since governance will be impossible, the only honourable thing to do is call a general election right away. The irrational option would be to carry on as if nothing had happened, and hope for the best in April and May. Which of the two do you think will happen?

The yin and yang of the current fighting season in Indian democracy is at eye level, but perhaps just below the radar of clarity. One wonders how many have noticed that for the very first time, in the Delhi Congress campaign, Mrs Sonia Gandhi's picture is smaller than that of Mrs Sheila Dikshit. The obvious implication is that the redoubtable Chief Minister has a far better chance of getting votes than the family which has taken control of Congress fortunes. This was evident in the embarrassing turnout at Rahul Gandhi's public meeting, where a despairing Mrs Dikshit had to exhort the thin crowd to stay on for the star turn. It was no longer an appeal for votes. It was a plea for charity.

In contrast, P. Shankar Rao, a former minister of Andhra Pradesh who doubtless has dreams of upward mobility, wants the potential state of Telangana to be named after Sonia Gandhi. He has suggested Sonia Telangana. He also wants Sonia Gandhi to be known as Telangana Talli, or Mother of Telangana, and her statue to be erected in every garden.

The only proper country named after a family is Saudi Arabia. No one has raised objections, including Saudis. One presumes no one in the Congress will find Sonia Telangana unacceptable. During the Emergency of 1975-1977, a Congress president, Dev Kant Baruah, declared that Indira [Gandhi] was India and India was Indira. He refrained from suggesting that the Constitution be amended to change India's name; but he might have done so if Indira Gandhi had won the 1977 elections.

But setting aside sycophancy, Shankar Rao's dramatic views confirm that Sonia Gandhi is a vote-winner in Telangana. The niggle is that she has competition, from the local party that has been promoting the cause of separation long before Congress latched on, so there is no chance of a sweeping victory for Sonia Gandhi in Telangana. The downside is that Congress will suffer a sweeping defeat in the rest of Andhra.

We will know the results of five Assembly elections only on 8 December and predictions are hazardous. But it is probably safe to suggest that Congress space will continue to shrink, and the decline might be more steep than the party is publicly ready to admit. The chemistry that Narendra Modi is generating with election crowds in Congress-run Rajasthan tells its own story. In private, senior Congress leaders confess that they will be relieved if Congress wins one state, possibly Chhattisgarh; Delhi would be a tremendous bonus.

This nightmare, defeat in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Delhi, has become a daytime worry. If that happens, arguments will run out, closely chased by alibis. Those doing opinion polls report, in conversations, that the negative gap for the Congress in most parts of the country increases sharply when the choice shifts from state to national polls. What can Congress do in the last lap before a very long five years finally comes to an end with the next general elections?

The first temptation will be to blame Dr Manmohan Singh, suggesting that nothing is wrong with the party and everything is wrong with a bankrupt government that permitted prices to rise. This would also shift the primary focus from corruption to the failing economy.

Corruption has beneficiaries, which can cut close to the family bone. But such an excuse works only if all you want is to buy a little time from television anchors. The voter will ask: if the government was useless why did Congress tolerate it for so long? The jibe is obvious: if the Congress cannot change the PM, the voter can. So should Sonia Gandhi name a new Prime Minister? Some Congress enthusiasts are already proposing that Rahul Gandhi should be made Prime Minister.

This would not be a problem if Congress had a simple majority in the Lok Sabha, since Dr Manmohan Singh would never be an obstacle. Any new PM will, however, require to win a vote of confidence in Parliament, unless he or she wants to be remembered as another Charan Singh, who in 1979 became PM but did not have the courage to face the House. Could Rahul Gandhi be confident of getting the necessary support from Congress allies in UPA2? This could well become the opportunity for long-suffering allies to display their resentment, as well as signal to the electorate that they may support Congress but are not acolytes.

Even a happy ally like Sharad Pawar has hinted that he might not back Rahul Gandhi as PM.

The rational option for Congress, in case the news is terrible on the 8th, would be to inform Parliament that since governance will be impossible, the only honourable thing to do is call a general election right away. The irrational option would be to carry on as if nothing had happened, and hope for the best in April and May. Which of the two do you think will happen?

 

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