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Sunday 17 November 2019
Views Articles Congress: The Endgame

Congress: The Endgame

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[dropcap]A[/dropcap]lbert Camus wrote, “What is a rebel? A man who says no,” in a novel by the same name, back in 1953, shortly around the time Narendra Modi was born.

When you have an essential rebel of an honest kind, who is also the prime minister, some very interesting reactions start to take place. The corrupt, first of all, on all sides of the fence, are very discomfited. Then there are those who hate change because it threatens to destroy the established order that they have learned to exploit. And, of course, many variations on these themes.

The Indian National Congress (INC) and its agents and assigns looted a full third of the contents of the PSU banking system, piled procurement scam upon scam like bodies that came out of the gas chambers at Auschwitz, and shredded as much of the evidence as they possibly could, when they realised the UPA would finally lose in 2014.

And lose drastically they did, to a man they had tried their very best to destroy — for over a decade. And lose in such a way that their friends on the other side of the aisle, fellow travellers in the stratosphere of Lutyens’ Delhi, would not have a say in how rebellious the winner chose to be.

No namby-pamby easily pressurised coalition came up in place of the UPA, but a solid majority government that was impossible to shake from its perch — for a full 5 years.

Narendra Modi, a provincial politician from Gujarat, with question marks raised over his educational qualifications recently, is an outsider to the ways of Lutyens’ Delhi, and peculiarly incorruptible by its ways. He is an austere, god-fearing bachelor, who keeps his family at a great distance, a teetotaller, a workaholic, a man seemingly with no need for personal wealth.

But Modi has demonstrated a great fondness for political power, democratically, electorally, arrived at, to use ostensibly to change the country and right its wrongs. He says it is development he is after, even as many of his followers are under no illusion that they want to create a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ shorn of pseudo-secularism of the INC kind. This because it has amounted to Muslim and other minority vote-bank politics, plain and simple, almost anti-Hindu in its thrust.

A new self-appointed spokesman, Subramanian Swamy, also just inducted into the Rajya Sabha, one who claims to have Modi’s confidence, has promised a start to the construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya in 2016. Swamy has also promised abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir in 2017.

Swamy, a distinguished economist himself, has also written to the prime minister to terminate the services of the RBI governor Raghuram Rajan when his present 3-year term expires in September, or even before, stating that his skills and ideas are ‘inappropriate’ to India’s current needs. Rajan has kept interest rates unnecessarily high, says Swamy, and this has been an impediment to the revival of business and industry.

Swamy has also expressed a degree of unhappiness with the functioning of the finance ministry under Arun Jaitley. There are steady rumours of an impending cabinet reshuffle, plus a change of chief minister in Gujarat, to prepare for their Assembly elections in 2017.

The INC high-command has always underestimated and misread both Modi and Swamy, and now might continue to do so at its own peril. Given the problems looming over the Gandhis via the National Herald case, and the moves towards prosecution in the AgustaWestland issue, they need to be worried.

But, as in most ivory towers, the INC leadership has, and continues to, listen to its own fantasies and confabulators. It had decided its best strategy was to try and destroy Modi’s credibility as prime minister, mock his 56 inch chest as it were, learning nothing from its failed attempts to do so, when Modi was Chief Minister of Gujarat.

It set about doing this by calling him names, casting aspersions on his motives, calling him a fake and a liar, and preventing Modi from being effective in the legislature right from May 2014 till date.

To a greater extent than is acknowledged within the NDA, the INC realised it had been beaten, not by the BJP as they knew it, but by a force that they had underestimated, a man alone, who ran a presidential style general election campaign to win a parliamentary election.

Modi won, and not so much the BJP, albeit with strong RSS and industry backing. Without Modi, it is reckoned, the BJP might have won 160 odd seats, and had to cobble together a coalition with partners and allies, replete with accommodation and compromise, and as best it could.

In the failed endeavour to contain Modi, to some extent, it was supported, not only by other elements in the opposition, but also by the  soft dissidents in the BJP who  believe in the so-called ‘Club 160’ doctrine. Others, more vocal, have been firmly sidelined for challenging Modi’s ascendancy during the long campaign in 2013-14.

The INC, however, expected a repeat of the accommodative Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime at worst.  Instead they have got what we have now. For these two years, since the advent of the Modi government, Congress worked hard and successfully to prevent any major legislation like the GST Bill and the Land Acquisition Amendment Bill from going through.

One reason is these two pieces of legislation alone have the potential to add a percentage point or two to the GDP rate. Even as the passage of the long pending OROP and the coming of the 7th Pay Commission may indeed set off a mini consumer-led boom through the armed forces and the central bureaucracy. But GST, a single countrywide trade tax at source, in place of dozens of leaky impositions, could do very much more, not only for growth, but also government revenue.

So it was not something the rump that the INC is reduced to, with 44 seats in the Lok Sabha and 67/68 seats, till lately, in the Rajya Sabha could allow, as long as it could still help it. Its dream was to claw itself back to power at the head of an anti-NDA coalition in 2019, having thoroughly trashed Modi’s tall claims on governance, and everything else he stood for.

The INC has also tried to foment an internal BJP rebellion against ‘dictator’ Modi — almost anyone from the Lutyens’ Delhi BJP wallahs would do in his place! But the personal popularity of Modi with the masses, if not the partisan Congress-Left bred intelligentsia, or the Congress spawned media, prevented this gaining any traction.

But now this situation is changed. Not only has its numbers fallen in the Rajya Sabha due to retirement, but it has lost Assam to the BJP and its allies. This is particularly significant because Assam has a third of its population who are Muslims — many wilfully allowed in from Bangladesh over the years to form durable INC vote-banks.

Probably for the first time, here comes the BJP, able to unify the Hindu vote for once. It pulled it off by winning the State election despite the other 33% voting en bloc for the INC and its allies.

All was revealed on the 19th of May. But the larger lesson is that if the BJP can consolidate the Hindu vote in one state, it can do so in another. When it did so in the general election, for example in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the consideration was national, and there was indeed a strong Modi wave.

But now Assam is the first in a State election where, with the influence of Bangladeshi immigration unchecked, assertive rioting on the part of both native Assamese groups and the erstwhile alien Muslims, the majority community, in their own defence and quest for survival. hardened its stance. The INC did nothing to hurt their vote-banks, and this was the reason for its exit after 3 consecutive terms. The Assam win might form a political strategy prototype for future elections for the BJP, particularly in Uttar Pradesh.

Meanwhile, the INC hardly has any States left in its direct or coalition administration. It lost Kerala as well to the Communists. It scraped through the Union Territory of Puducherry, in coalition. Its similarly scam-ridden partner DMK could not help it to a win in Tamil Nadu. The AIADMK has retained power. And TMC has retained West Bengal.

Down the road, on the way to 2019, in the remaining State Assembly elections, Punjab is threatened by the AAP; it will be difficult to wrest Gujarat from the BJP, and the INC’s chances of winning Uttar Pradesh are bleak, the proposed fielding of Priyanka Gandhi notwithstanding.

Very shortly, the INC will lose the last vestiges of being called a national party. In Parliament, they have already lost some numbers in the Rajya Sabha to retirement, and will lose influence with the AIADMK and TMC and the BJD — all likely to keep their own counsel, going forward too.

Sonia Gandhi is said to be ailing, and Rahul Gandhi cannot seem to come out of his perpetual apprenticeship in order to lead his party towards 2019. Neither can win elections anymore! Meanwhile, while other regional parties are reviving now, the INC continues in its precipitous decline.

The Modi government will likely pick up speed and dynamism in its second half, and the INC won’t be able to stop it. Without States to run, without parliamentary power to block, and without influence over other opposition formations, the grand old party could well disintegrate. It has already begun to do in States such as Arunachal and Uttarakhand.

And lastly, it is not just Rahul Gandhi who is inept. The entire band of political and dynastic inheritors in the party and elsewhere, Scindia, Pilot, Prasada amongst them, are far from capable of clawing back from the edge of the abyss. The old guard, on the other hand, people in their seventies and eighties, are immensely rich and tired, much too filled with realpolitik and cynicism to take on a crusading Narendra Modi.

Basically, therefore, the Congress day is done. We are here witnessing the throes of the endgame, and considering the pass it has come to, not a moment too soon. The disintegration will accelerate once Sonia Gandhi leaves the arena. To give the 18-years president of the INC her due, there is no one worthy of replacing her political acumen from behind the arras, certainly not from her family.

And the way things are constituted and constructed, without the Gandhi family capable of guiding it, there is no INC capable of cohesion or survival.

Gautam Mukherjee
Gautam Mukherjeehttp://ghatotkachseriesthree.blogspot.com/
Commentator on political and economic affairs

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