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Mainstream, VOL L, No 14, March 24, 2012

Is the Congress a Carbon Copy of the BJP?

Tuesday 27 March 2012, by Kuldip Nayar

Numbers are important in a parliamentary system and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s assertion that he has them should be assuring to the ruling Congress. After its debacle in the State elections of UP and Punjab, the party’s anxiety is understan-dable.

Yet the annoyance by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee can reduce the numbers. Her Trinamul Congress party has 19 members in the Lok Sabha. She has already given a notice for amendment in the presidential address which mentioned the creation of a National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC). Supporting her are also six non-BJP State Chief Ministers.

If the Samajwadi Party’s Mulayam Singh, lionised by the victory in UP, were to align with the Trinamul Congress with his 22 members, Manmohan Singh’s majority can come tumbling down, reducing him to a minority in a House of 543. The Dravida Munnetra Kazaham (DMK) with 18 members can add to Manmohan Singh’s troubles because the party has given a notice to express its annoyance over the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka.

Even then the numbers meet the needs of the Constitution, not that of governance. Except for the first few years, the Manmohan Singh Govern-ment has been lousy in its performance. Price rise has been constant and the decline in growth relentless. The same Manmohan Singh, who introduced economic reforms with Victor Hugo’s words that the time for a new idea has come and none can stop it, is now bereft of ideas. He is listless and his government gives the impression as if it has outlived its stay.

If one were to count the scams, they would beat all the governments hollow since independence. So much money, trillions of rupees have lined pockets of Ministers, bureaucrats and outsiders, both Indian and foreign. Never before has the public exchequer been looted so openly and so unashamedly.

But for some enterprising media hands and activists, the scandals would not have come to light. And the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), the kingpin, would have gone on keeping Manmohan Singh in the dark if the Supreme Court had not pointed out that officers and advisers at the PMO were to blame. Strange, none has been punished, strengthening the belief that Dr Manmohan Singh knew all but stayed quiet because of political compulsions.

How do these instances of corruption square up with the numbers is the question. Even if the Congress had a majority on its own, its stock is so damaged that the party would need to overhaul itself and effect some miracles to come back into the people’s reckoning.

The reason why the people voted for it in the past for decades was the different image the Cognress projected from its rival, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Whether it is competitive politics or the abandonment of values, the Congress looks a duplicate copy of the BJP. Both are corrupt and both are communal and casteist.
True, when Indira Gandhi ousted morality from politics in the seventies, the party lost the sense to differentiate between right and wrong, moral and immoral. Still there were times, even during Manmohan Singh’s regime, when the hope of a cleaner and nobler politics flickered. Why do the future of the government and that of the Congress look so bleak now? Can the Congress turn back from the precipice?

IN fact, the party can begin a new chapter if it were to introduce a Bill in parliament to lay down that the political parties would accept money only through cheques and would get their accounts audited by the recognised chartered accountant firms. This step will help soar the reputation of the Congress high and remove the stigma that suitcases full of currency go right upto the top in the party to finance the elections. The BJP is no different but the responsibility of cleansing the system lies on the shoulders of those in power.

The Congress is, however, doing the opposite. With the help of the obedient Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) the scandals are minimised to favour the party which comes to support the Congress. More than that is the absence of remorse. The insensitive Congress continues to make mistakes. Take the case of reservations. During the recent election in UP, which has 19 per cent of the Muslim electorate, Law Minister Salman Khurshid introduced a sub-quota for Muslims from the overall 27 per cent reservations for Other Backward Classes. That the Muslims are 80 per cent backward is a fact which the Sachar Committee has brought out, but the Law Minister using this during the elections has muddied the waters of pluralism and given strength to the BJP’s obsession with Hindutva.

The Congress is supposed to have secular credentials. Casting even a shadow on them tantamount to betraying the ethos of independence—a secular society. But then the Congress of today is increasingly going away from those values and principles. Now its purpose is to concentrate power at the Centre, unlike Mahatma Gandhi’s precept of decentralisation. Federalism is the core of the Constitution and it is that very core which Home Minister P. Chidambaram and his Ministry are trying to destroy. The proposed creation of the NCTC is nothing but setting up a machinery to snoop at what the States are doing in the subjects which the Constitution has allotted them exclusively. The protest raised by some of the Chief Ministers should have put an end to this move. Yet the President’s address mentions the proposal.

If nothing else, such acts of the Congress Government may revive the third or fourth front of non-Congress and non-BJP Chief Ministers. They are meeting on April 19 to chalk out their strategy on how to stop the Centre from encroaching upon their authority. They have also been disturbed by the Home Secretary’s remark that the Chief Secretaries should not “act like stenographers” of the Chief Ministers. This may have made the non-BJP States all the more determined to have a loose kind of liaison so that they are not pushed by the Centre any more. Were this to happen, the Prime Minister’s claim that his government has the numbers does not mean much. His other allies may also leave him.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is http://www.kuldipnayar.com

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