Terminal patient

Terminal patient


The habitat of a government may have relocated from a palace to a hospital, but don’t start the funeral prayers too soon. The fate of Manmohan Singh’s coalition will not be determined by the number of wounds on its body, or indeed on the body politic, nor by the toxicity of the environment, but by the circumstances of a moment which has not yet arrived.

The medical report of UPA-2 would, in normal circumstances, demand emergency health bulletins. One of its legs, DMK, has gangrene. The only solution to gangrene is amputation, but the Congress has chosen to put band aid instead. The suicide of Sadiq Batcha, the pauper-to-prince bagman who became the conduit and beneficiary of A Raja’s stolen goods, has added a sinister and fatal dimension to the sores oozing out of the DMK’s bone marrow. Gangrene will spread as the system works its way through the suicide.

The Congress, bathing in antiseptic to prevent that contagion, has been diagnosed with tuberculosis in its lungs by Dr Wikileaks. All the familiar ingredients of this historic malady have been found in the reports sent by the American embassy in Delhi to the State Department in Washington, and revealed to the world through the internet. Names become almost irrelevant when the pattern is so set: a central figure whose principal contribution to the party has been as a cash reservoir for political transactions, an all-purpose middleman who could not resist flaunting his treasure chests to US intelligence officials, and then lazy denials without even the strength of a whimper.

As if all this were not hopeless enough, an obstinate sister from Bengal has chosen just this time to do her little bit: instead of bringing fruit and flowers to the patient, Mamata Banerjee has inserted a little knife into a vulnerable tendon. She has decided that the Grand Old Party is worth just 64 candidates out of 292 in the Bengal Assembly elections, take it or leave it. In order to swallow your pride, you must have some pride left, and Mamata has drained the pride out of the Bengal Congress. Her calculation is self-serving, which is the only logic that works in politics. She does not want to be dependent on the Congress to form a future government. The Congress will win between 30 to 40 seats in any case; in an alliance it might get a bit more in such an equation.

There is not much going for it. An alliance only benefits Mamata, for it places her victory beyond doubt.

No alternative

I have no idea whether the prime minister believes in astrology or not, but no conjugation of planets and demons could have inflicted more misery upon him. For some months now, news has become a four-letter word for the Congress. But such is the paradoxical behaviour of the planets that the very stars which are destroying the Congress image are preserving the life of this government. Manmohan Singh’s government will survive this and even worse because there is no alternative alliance possible in this parliament, and no MP wants a general election so soon.

Precisely because the crisis is premature, Singh has an opportunity to fight his way out of it. When you have nothing more to lose, the only serious option left is going for the gain. It is too late now to reverse the alliance with the DMK, but another crossroads will come after the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections, which the DMK is almost certain to lose.

This gives the Congress a reasonable opt-out: rejection by the voter will confirm the immorality of the alliance. Any threat by the DMK to take revenge by bringing down the government is meaningless, since it cannot do so until a widely disparate opposition finds a common reason for doing so. Narasimha Rao, aided by a similar House, survived for three years with a minority without a jitter.

But survival must mean something more than bobbing about on a raft in the middle of a clueless sea. Singh has to use this year, and there may not be much more time than that, to fill the gap in governance that has developed, and convince India that he is not paying mere lip service to probity in public life. The first is easier than the second, since elements within his own party and alliance are corrupt. But if he does not act against them, whatever be the price, his injured credibility will suffer beyond repair.

Governance needs a resurgence of ideas, and the will to reform that has been strangely absent from his agenda after his re-election. Why this has happened is a mystery beyond the comprehension of this columnist.

Manmohan Singh has a doctorate in economics rather than politics, but this is precisely what he needs. Politics has brought the government to hospital. Only economics can get it out of there.