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Mainstream, VOL L, No 15, March 31, 2012

The Writing on the Wall

Monday 2 April 2012, by Era Sezhiyan

The Congress should see the message that stands out in the form of the Assembly election results, on the portents it holds.

Addressing the media on March 7, a day after the results of the five Assembly elections were announced, Congress President Sonia Gandhi attributed the outcome against the party to “wrong candidates, organisational weaknesses, party members not taking serious responsibilities, and too many leaders in the party”.
Further, she observed that the electoral rever-ses would have no adverse impact on the United Progressive Alliance Government. Asked about the possibility of early general elections, the Congress President declared: “We’re in 2012, and Manmohan Singh will continue to be the Prime Minister till 2014.”

Talking of “weak” candidates, the Congress President and the office-bearers authorised by her alone should be held responsible for their selec-tion. Under the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968, the party President and such office-bearers authorised by the President alone can issue Form B to notify a Returning Officer about a party’s candidate and the allotment of its election symbol to him or her. Without the forms duly signed on behalf of the party, nobody can enter a contest.

In the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, the Congress had an alliance with the Rashtriya Janata Dal. There were 355 Congress candidates in the field, of whom only 25 won.

In the 2002 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, there were 402 Congress candidates to win 25 seats. In 334 places they lost their security deposit. In the 2007 elections, the Congress contested in 393 seats, to succeed in 22; it lost the deposit in 323 places.

All these three rounds of election took place in this largest State of India, in terms of population, under the same party President—Sonia Gandhi.

Nehru’s Record

FROM its birth in 1895 till Independence in 1947, the Indian National Congress elected a President each year to address its annual session. During that period, Jawaharlal Nehru was the only leader to become the Congress President for four terms. In free India, in addition to being the Prime Minister, he held the post of the Congress Presi-dent for three terms. Thus, on the whole, Jawaharlal Nehru held the record of being the President of the Congress for seven terms, till 1964.
After the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991, Sonia Gandhi withdrew from all political activity. After much persuasion by several Congress leaders, she enrolled herself as a primary member in the last week of December 1997. There-after, within 62 days, she was made the President of the Congress on March 1, 1998. She continues to hold the post. Indeed, in the long history of the Indian National Congress, she has been the longest-serving President—for over 14 years.
During his lifetime, even Nehru—during the course of the freedom struggle and in independent India—had to contend with veterans such as Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Abul Kalam Azad and C. Rajagopalachari. Compared to those times, Sonia Gandhi has a highly subservient and docile party machine to reckon with. She has become the unassailable leader.

Apart from holding the post of party President, in 1999 she was appointed Leader of the Opposi-tion. And since 2004, she has been the chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance in all its forms (first during 2004-2009 and then from 2009 till now).

No other President of the Congress party, or any party in India for that matter, has ever wiel-ded such a level of control on all aspects of the party organisation, and on all crucial decisions of its governments at the Centre or in the States. In a recent historical narration of the latest phase of the Indian National Congress that has been published, there is extreme adulation. It terms Sonia Gandhi a ‘Mahatma’.

Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi are now Members of Parliament representing the constituencies of Rae Bareli and Amethi that have been notable in the political history of the Nehru-Gandhi family.

Feroze Gandhi won elections in Rae Bareli in 1952 and 1957, but died in 1960. Indira Gandhi, who became the Prime Minister in 1966, contested successfully in Rae Bareli first in 1967 and then in 1970. Though she was defeated in Rae Bareli by Raj Narain in the tornado poll-sweep of the Janata Party in 1977, she contested there again in 1980 to win, and to go on to become Prime Minister.

Sanjay Gandhi won the 1980 election in Amethi; unfortunately, he died in an air crash a few months later in June 1980. His elder bother, Rajiv Gandhi, was drafted into politics and entered Parliament by means of a by-election in Amethi. In October 1984, Indira Gandhi was assassinated. Then Rajiv Gandhi again won from Amethi to become the Prime Minister in 1984. In the wake of the Bofors howitzer deal scandal, the Congress was defeated in the 1989 elections, but Rajiv Gandhi himself won in Amethi to become Leader of the Opposition. After his death, in 1999, Sonia Gandhi contested successfully from Amethi. And over the next two elections, she contested successfully in Rae Bareli, in 2004 and in 2009.

Washout for Congress

HOWEVER, in the latest round of Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, all the Congress candidates fielded in the five Assembly segments in the Rae Bareli parliamentary constituency were defeated. Though Sonia Gandhi had topped in terms of the number of votes polled in all these Assembly segments in the 2004 and 2009 general elections, it was a washout for the Congress candidates there. Within Rahul Gandhi’s Amethi parliamentary constituency, only two candidates reached the winning post.

The election symbol of the Congress is the hand, with five fingers spread out. In Uttar Pradesh, each parliamentary constituency has five segments. In Rae Bareli, all the five fingers of the hand were cut off, and in Amethi three were lost.
The Congress President has since asserted that the election outcomes in Uttar Pradesh and the other States would have no impact on the UPA Government, but she has failed to assess the reverse impact of the misrule of UPA-II on the long-suffering people of disadvantaged sections throughout India, with scam after scam involving the loss of mind-boggling sums of money, wide-spread corruption percolating from the ruling authority in Delhi, astounding audit revelations, forthright judicial expositions, fall in the rupee value, spiralling prices of food articles and commo-dities of common consumption, and rising un-employment levels. The incompetence of the Union Government is manifest. A tongue-tied Prime Minister appears to be helpless in taking action against any wrongdoing Minister, under the peculiar cult of “coalition dharma”.

When the oppressed millions got the ballot under the scarce “democratic dharma”, they have hit hard at the Rajas, the Rahuls, and their mini-ons parading as MPs and Ministers. It was the fury of the masses that crushed the ambitious targets fixed by the Congress leaders.

The overall polling percentages in the five States have risen in 2012 compared to those recor-ded in 2007. Moreover, in every State concerned, the number of women voters coming to vote surpassed that of the men voters.

Impact on Alliance

THE aftermath of the decisive downfall of the Congress in the Assembly election round has severely affected the coherence of the alliance; some of the partners seem to be even trying to distance themselves from the government.
Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister is helpless and hopeless when it comes to tackling critical situations. Take, for instance, the removal of Dinesh Trivedi as the Railway Minister. Let us not be concerned here with the merits or demerits of his budget proposals. The Cabinet had accepted his proposals and the Prime Minister also appre-ciated his work. The Prime Minister showed hesi-tation in the matter until the President of the alliance party in question vehemently insisted that the Minister should go.

It was after much deliberation that the Constituent Assembly decided to adopt the British model of Cabinet Government. On the essence of the collective responsibility of the Cabinet, Dr B.R. Ambedkar had asserted: “One principle is that no person shall be nominated to the Cabinet except on the advice of the Prime Minister. Secondly, no person shall be retained as a member of the Cabinet, if the Prime Minister says he shall be dismissed … As I said, collective responsibility can be achieved only through the instrumentality of the Prime Minister.” (Constituent Assembly Debates, December 30, 1948)

The times have of course changed. The Prime Minister today has no authority as envisaged by Dr Ambedkar. Whether it is Raja or Trivedi, he has to be instructed by the party President con-cerned. The Cabinet system of governance, as devised and accepted by the Constitution, is not being followed. We have a Cabinet without a competent Prime Minister, and a Prime Minister without an effective government.
The writing on the wall is clear. But Sonia Gandhi as the Congress President and Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister are not able to decipher it. But some wise Daniel will come along to lead the people against this “Organised Hypocrisy”—as Disraeli called an incompetent government.

(Courtesy: The Hindu)

Era Sezhiyan is an eminent parliamentarian and author.

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