Congress: How To Deal With Corruption
In a decision which will come as a breath of fresh air to a large number of embattled Congressmen, the Congress party leadership, in a change of strategy, has decided to play aggressive and defend party leaders charged with graft rather than sacrifice them one after the other, as was happening till now.
The party leadership blinked after the arrest of Suresh Kalmadi, who has now been sent to Tihar jail. Congressmen were visibly and vocally upset at the arrest of Kalmadi and sources say this was conveyed to the Congress President Sonia Gandhi. She was also told by leaders that if the situation continued as it was, many more heads may have to roll with an aggressive BJP pushing the Congress to the wall, and a defensive Prime Minister wanting to appear as picture postcard squeaky-clean, even though he ensured that senior PMO officials escaped interrogation in the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on the 2G spectrum scam.
A senior leader said the penny suddenly dropped and if too many more ministers and chief ministers were dropped on charges of corruption, it would only benefit the BJP, which is already projecting the Congress as well as its allies in the UPA, as one of the most corrupt governments ever to have existed. The aggressive and no-holds barred attitude of the Supreme Court has certainly helped neither the government nor the party, said a Congress leader, but more than that it was the defensive posture of the leadership which worsened the situation for the Congress-led UPA.
In hindsight, many Congress insiders now admit that the strategy was faulty from the beginning and the decision to cave in, even before opposition demands for resignations reached fever point, was a bad strategy and gave the opposition a huge handle with which to crush the Congress on corruption.
They admit that the resignation of Ashok Chavan was ill-timed and gave the opposition a huge boost, even though the issue was not as serious as some Congress leaders made it out to be. They also admit that Raja was asked to resign much earlier than required and this emboldened the opposition to push the government harder.
Senior leaders admit that part of the problem has been the Prime Minister whose office has again sent a recommendation to the CBI to act against Sheila Dikshit, on the basis of the Shunglu report. But sources say that this time it may not be so easy to replace the Delhi Chief Minister, who has been credited with bringing successive electoral triumphs for the party in Delhi based on development and governance, the twin towers on which Sonia Gandhi wants the Congress chief ministers to function.
WHAT DIGVIJAY UP TO?
An unholy row has kicked up in the Congress party over AICC General Secretary Digvijay Singh’s statement that even the worst of criminals should be buried or cremated according to their faith.
While the party officially distanced itself from the statement, unofficially senior and responsible leaders have strongly disapproved of what Digvijay has said, going to the extent of calling it a communal approach.
Commenting on Digvijay, he said: “It is not a good thing to always react, to increase one’s personal constituency”, which is being seen as a direct attack on the former chief minister for his pro-Muslim stance on a number of issues.
It is no secret in the Congress party that Digvijay, who is incharge of Uttar Pradesh and is seen to be close to Rahul Gandhi, has been appearing on a large number of fora speaking up for the Muslim cause and in the process being feted by the Muslim community as a leader who speaks up for them. Within the Congress, he is seen as a sharp leader who is filling up the space vacated by Arjun Singh, an upper caste Thakur taking up the cause of the backwards and the minorities.
Sources say it is an approach which suits Rahul Gandhi, as the Digvijay-Rahul duo use all the resources at their command to win back the Muslim vote in Uttar Pradesh, as the battle for the Hindu heartland gets underway.
Unwilling to be quoted, the leader said that Osama bin Laden was not involved in any religious work, nor indulging in any humanitarian activities for the good of the people, so there was no need to bring in the issue of his religion as there was no issue of principle involved here.
He said that the party does not agree with what he has spoken and this will be conveyed to him by the right quarters.
Interestingly, in the evening Digvijay had a meeting with Sonia Gandhi and this was portrayed by certain channels as Sonia Gandhi having summoned the AICC General Secretary.
When asked about this he categorically denied the summons saying it was “absolutely rubbish”. He said he had gone to attend a meeting at 10 Janpath, which was also attended by others—Ahmed Patel, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma and Suresh Pachauri—and said the issue of Osama bin Laden was not raised.
Repeating his statement made earlier, Digvijay said: “Osama is a terrorist and deserves the treatment he has got, but at the same time the worst of criminals should be buried or cremated according to their faith”.
This statement has raised the heckles of a large number of people both inside and outside the Congress party, at a time when the world is rejoicing at the killing of the al-Qaeda leader, who was in hiding for years after the attack on the twin towers in New York.
Within the Congress party, there are strong groups who have opposed Digvijay on a number of occasions and have attempted to put a gag on his utterances, so much so that the public spate with P Chidambaram went on for days, but at the end the leadership nearly always stood up to be counted with the utterances of Digvijay.
A seasoned leader, who is known to be politically sharp and astute, Digvijay has always known how far to go in his utterances and where to draw the line. He has never been shy in articulating his views on sensitive subjects—a trait which very few Congressmen share with him—busy as they are in obfuscating issues.
But in this particular case, as one leader puts it: “In his haste to be different and to woo the Muslim brotherhood, Digvijay Singh has unnecessarily spoken, since both the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi have repeatedly emphasised that terror and terrorists have no religion, and to now bring in Islam in the Osama story, has not gone down too well with the leadership, as it contradicts whatever they have been saying.”
For the moment the jury is still out on this one!
There is a strong view in the Congress party that asking Dikshit to step down on charges of corruption would be counterproductive for the party and this time around, it would be resisted with all their might.
It is a part of the same thinking that the Congress finally aggressively took on the BJP’s Murli Manohar Joshi in the PAC and ensured that the draft report could not be adopted by the committee.
While the Congress has always had a weak track record on issues of corruption (it never fully took on the BJP on issues of corruption, after the NDA was voted out of power and the UPA came in, simply on the adage of letting sleeping dogs lie), nor has it been able to fully defend itself on many such charges, deciding instead to take the moral high ground and ask its chief ministers and ministers to resign, but after over a year of being battered and bruised, the party now wants to stand up and fight, said a well-informed party functionary.
Some evidence of this came when the party decided to take on the members of civil society and expose their acts of omission and commission on corruption-related issues, after the government was taken by Anna Hazare and company to the cleaners as they capitalised on the public frenzy against corruption. The government and the party woke up four days too late but when it did, it did a thorough job of digging up the dirt on the crusaders, in what some people called fighting a dirty battle.
Sources say that this strategy would be further fine tuned after May 13, when the results to the five state assemblies would be in. For the moment, the assessment at the highest level in the Congress is that the party along with its allies is winning in all the five states. In Tamil Nadu, when the DMK’s Raja is in jail for the 2G spectrum scam, the voters would deliver their verdict on whether corruption is an issue in the elections or whether the DMK’s popular and populist schemes win the day for the ruling party.
In Kerala, the country’s most literate and aware state, a Congress victory would give the party relief and send the message that corruption in the corridors of Delhi is not an issue in Kerala.
In Assam, the Congress is looking for a third consecutive term in power, even though the government and the leadership in the state are bogged down on issues of corruption. A victory in these three states would be a big boost for the Congress and would give them enough ammunition to both silence and take on the opposition BJP with the monsoon session around the corner in July.
It would give both Sonia Gandhi and Dr Manmohan Singh enough adrenalin with which to rationalise the anomalies in the government and to discard the non-performers and incompetents, an issue which has been hanging fire since the UPA returned to power in 2009. The second anniversary of UPA II on May 22, would be a time to sit back and take stock of what went wrong, where and how aggressively the Congress needs to take on the BJP, and in the process discard the defensive approach of the Prime Minister who is only looking at his own popularity ratings, which have continued to dip for some time now.
By Renu Mittal