UPA’S Crumbling Citadel
Is the Congress citadel crumbling and is the UPA on its last legs?
On Tuesday night, the UPA leadership witnessed perhaps one of its worst humiliations when the Prime Minister hosted a dinner for his allies. The top galaxy of Congress leaders were present but leaders of the alliance stayed away with Mamta Banerjee sending a junior MP who made it a point to say that she had been asked not to eat with even Sharad Pawar not being present (he was not well). The DMK was represented by TR Balu and even he looked very angry.
The dinner appears to have sent a strong signal that all is not well with the UPA. Its ally in Kashmir has been hit by a big cricket scandal while the ally in Kanyakumari has been bashed by the 2G scam.
Just a day after the dinner, when the headline should have been a good and credible Rail Budget, it was instead Mamta’s wrath on her colleague, the railway minister Dinesh Trivedi for having raised passenger fares, In possibly the first instance of its kind, an alliance leader was publicly criticizing its own minister, so much so that the minister says he is willing to be sacrificed for the good of the nation.
Mamta had threatened to move amendements to the president’s speech but they fell through on technical grounds with pranab Mukherjee having to issue a stern warning to Mamta that allies do not move amendments or cut motions against its own government.
The only question remaining now is who blinks first. Would Mamta leave the UPA or would a fed up and humiliated UPA leadership throw in the towel and sever its ties with Mamta.
So focused was the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi on retaining power at the Centre that they decided that insults and humiliations are par for the course and accepted as a matter of routine. Mamta has refused to help congress win a Rajya Sabha seat with her surplus numbers and it is the Left who has come forward to help them bridge the numbers.
Regional parties are geared up and strongly flexing their muscles as both the BJP and the Congress look to be cut off from the aspirations of the people. It’s a scenario which would grow stronger in the days and weeks ahead with the Congress ready to bargain on getting its vice president and president through but for the moment the going looks tough for the ruling party. The long budget session is not expected to help the Congress boost either its numbers or its morale as a fresh crisis hits the government everyday.
Along with the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre, the Congress party also is going through one of its worst crisies in a long time with the party having been dented by a spectacularly bad performance in UP, defeat in Punjab and Goa and a marginal victory in Uttarakhand.
Immediately following the results the party leadership confounded matters by acting in a high handed manner and imposed a chief minister on Uttarakhand without the consent or assent of the majority of MLAs. The result was that for the first time in her 14 years of stewardship of the Congress party, Sonia Gandhi’s writ was challenged by the majority of party MLAs and MPs from the state, who boycotted the swearing-in ceremony of chief minister Vijay Bahuguna with even arch rivals like Harak Singh and Indira Hridesh coming together in support of Harish Rawat.
Not only has the credibility of the leadership been dented also but also her authority has also been challenged. Taking unilateral, over the top decisions can and has happened in happier times when the party is on a victory roll and no one has the gumption to take on the powerful leadership.
As one senior AICC functionary put it, “the sister (Rita Bahuguna has just resigned because of the party’s poor performance, one brother (Shekhar Bahuguna) has been defeated in the polls. So where is the question of making the third brother ( Vijay Bahuguna) the chief minister of Uttarakhand?” This comment was made before the decision on Vijay Bahuguna was made public and the leader had no inkling which way the dice was loaded.
The next state which would face similar turmoil is Himachal Pradesh where the Congress party’s tallest leader, Raja Vir Bhadra Singh may finally part ways with the party and float his own regional party along with BJP leader Shanta Kumar. Sources close to him say that he did not want to come to Delhi as a Lok Sabha MP but the party decided otherwise. Later, he was almost dropped, and then his portfolio changed to one of miniscule importance. Humiliated and shunned, he is now a very angry old man. His supporters think that the party may once again use him to win the Himachal Pradesh elections and then dump him and make someone like Anand Sharma the chief minister.
The fact is that without having won a single election in his life and without being in a position to influence any votes, Brahmin or otherwise, he has been going from strength to strength, so much so that the party leadership went out of its way to accommodate him from Rajasthan, when he could not even win a Rajya Sabha seat from his state of Himachal Pradesh. In sharp contrast the man who is seen as the tallest leader with genuine ground root support and influence has been humiliated.
Reports coming in from various states indicate that the shoe is finally beginning to pinch and Uttarakhand may well be the turning point as far as angry and disgruntled congressmen are concerned. For the first time open talk has begun of decisions being based on financial considerations with Congress workers on all shapes and sizes admitting they worked hard to defeat the congress in UP “because the arrogance of its leaders had reached a peak” and the ordinary congress worker had no voice in the party. Congress workers are angry that repeatedly rootless wonders of the Congress are not only being promoted but given plum Rajya Sabha seats when they cannot influence a single vote or help the party.
In UP’s Almora constituency, the congress got a mere 9,000 votes. This is the home of Rashid Alvi who has already been gifted two Rajya Sabha terms from Andhra Pradesh, with angry Andhra leaders wanting to know why their seats are being wasted. The buzz is that impressed with his performance, the Congress leadership may give him another term.
And then there is the example of Mohamed Adeeb who was close to Salman Khurshid and was given a Rajya Sabha from UP with the help of the Samajwadi Party, and even before the elections were over he gave some choicest abuses to Rahul, praised Akhilesh and shifted gear towards the Samajwadi Party.
In Punjab Congress, the large number of Congress leaders who ensured their kith and kin to get assembly tickets stunned the congress workers who felt they would spend their life spreading daris and would never find an opening to contest the elections. Fed up they ensured the party’s defeat, so much so that even Captain Amrinder Singh’s son lost the elections. Captain’s wife is an MP and Minister, he himself is an MLA and chief minister designate and now the son? Just a little too much said the Congress workers.
To make the matters worse, the Congress leadership made an unknown, inexperienced gentleman called Charak the general secretary incharge of an election going state like Punjab where he was no match for the dominant Captain Amrinder Singh. He was reduced to being his yes man, with the party being unable to depend upon him to run an organized election campaign.
Goa too was hit by the relative syndrome with the Congress leadership unable or unwilling to put matters right. Having surrounded herself with a secretariate controlled by men and women who have no touch with the grassroots with most of them never having contested or won an election, it is no wonder that when the gloss is wearing off, the party is falling to pieces with no hope in the near future for a revival.
In all the state assemblies going to the polls from now to 2014 when the general election is scheduled, the party faces an uphill task and is unlikely to find its feet anywhere. This year there are polls in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat where the going is tough, then next year there is Rajasthan, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Chattisgarh. In all these states, the leadership has been unable to put the house in order and instead of cutting out the deadwood and projecting charismatic faces, it has continued with the same beaten horses and lost an opportunity to build a new leadership.
The Congress shows little hope of revival in UP, Bihar, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. It will find the going tough in Maharashtra after two terms of being in power, and the assembly loss in other states will certainly hit the morale of both the worker and the leader and make it difficult to make major gains in the Lok Sabha election.
The Congress leadership certainly doesn’t seem to have learnt any lessons from the UP debacle, as the developments in Uttarakhand prove.
By Renu Mittal