Congress in a fix

Congress in a fix

I realise that I am not the person whom the Congress will listen to. Were it to do so, I would advise the party to go down fighting. At present, even if it survives, it will be sticking to the chair and not governing.

The crisis the party facing is nothing new. It has been discussing and debating for the last three-four years whether to adopt reforms or not. The fear of losing power held the party back from doing anything different. So much so, the prestige of prime minister Manmohan Singh came down tumbling and he was seen a pathetic figure.

True, the party does not have the numbers. With the withdrawal of 19 Lok Sabha members of Trinamool Congress, the coalition commands only 254 in a 536-member house. There is the temptation to bring either the Samajwadi Party’s Mulayam Singh Yadav with 22 members or Bahujan Samaj Party’s leader Mayawati with 21 members to muster the majority.

Yet the Congress knows the price it will have to pay to get one of the two or both on its side. The government-controlled Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) will use all weapons in its arsenal to do so. Both leaders are involved in too many cases of corruption and disproportionate wealth. Although Mayawati has been comparatively quiet, Mulayam Singh Yadav has observed that the Congress means corruption as if he has any face to say so. The DMK with 18 members is sniping at the Congress, probably to go on record, but the party is otherwise loyal to the Congress.

The real problem is of the leaders, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati from UP. Even if the Congress were to win over either of the two or both, what image the already tainted Congress would have? It is not an easy choice between compromise and power. But if the Congress wants to stave off its reputation even a bit, it cannot go back to the situation of voting on the nuclear deal with the US. Mulayam Singh was brought around with a blank cheque. The question that confronts the government is the increase in the diesel price which even after the raise will be subsidised by the government. The second moot point, more important, is allowing FDI in multi-brand retail.

Maybe, opening the retail in trade to foreigners will help people to confront the capricious shopkeepers, especially those dealing in food products, raising the price as and when the demand increases. True, all the 50 million retailers, their estimated number, do not behave the same way. Many are conscious of their responsibility. But presuming all of them are alike, the case for the economic steps the prime minister has taken will lead us to an uncharted territory without building the political consensus. However, I do not understand why the word, reform, is used when such steps are retrograde? Does it mean that all who oppose them are anti-reform? In a polarised country, it is better to avoid the terminology that divides and heightens tension.

Most opportune time

That all those reforms, if this is the buzzword which the government throws at the people, have been before them for three, four years. Why has the Manmohan Singh government considered September 2012 as the most opportune time and not 2008 or 2004 when it had come to power and why now when it is on the last lap of its second term and elections to Parliament are due in early 2014, less than one and a half years from now?

Could it be that the government wanted to deflect attention from a series of scams, the latest being the coal block allotments? I would like more transparency in governance than high-flaunting reforms. There is little doubt that the government will survive the test of a majority in the Lok Sabha if it comes to that (273 in a 545-member house). There are bits and pieces parties which can be cajoled and bought over to side with the ruling coalition.

Yet the numbers will have no meaning if there is no accountability. I have not seen many heads rolling, except for a couple of them, when it is an open secret that practically all the ministers are in league with bureaucrats in making money on the quiet. Many scams are yet to see the light of the day. Thanks to the media that some have been exposed. Whenever there is a talk about a scam, the government always begins with the phrase of “no loss to the exchequer.” Then it is discovered—the Supreme Court helped in the 2G spectrum—that there was something hanky-panky. Hurriedly steps are taken to close the door but they are late because by that time horses have bolted.

Gunnar Myrdal who studied South Asia and wrote a book, ‘Asian Drama,’ has said that India is a “soft state” because it cannot impose any obligation and seeks political compromises. This is as much true today as it was when we ushered in the First Five Year Plan in 1955.

Manmohan Singh’s reforms, which began 1990, have shown that a mixed economy or socialistic pattern does not work because of many reasons like traditional rigidities, religious narrowness and drastic steps for an egalitarian society. I wish he could have proved his slogan, inclusive development, good. Yet corruption on the one hand and the lack of decisiveness on the other has made open economy a serious option. I may stick to my left-of-centre belief but pragmatism is what counts in India.

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