Sonia’s New Script, Thanks To IAC
There seems to be two reasons why the strategy adopted by Mrs Sonia Gandhi to overcome her party’s corruption taint may fail. Earlier it was conjectured in these columns that the controversy raked up over Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) would divert public attention from the mega corruption that would have fatally damaged the Congress in elections. It was further speculated that the diversion was a deliberate ploy by Mrs Sonia Gandhi because after the Coalgate exposures the net was closing in on the party’s top leadership. It was pointed out that the opposition parties vulnerable and suspect in relation to corruption would aid the Congress in this diversionary exercise. Events proceeded according to plan. The opposition jumped into the FID debate and blithely overlooked corruption. But corruption can no longer be ignored. This is not because of the opposition. The India Against Corruption (IAC) team led by Mr Arvind Kejriwal, Mr Prashant Bhushan and others brought the focus back on track. Their new party making its first foray into electoral politics has restored public attention smack on the issue of corruption.
The IAC team seized the obvious issue to refocus on corruption. It went for the jugular. Mr Kejriwal and Mr Bhushan drew attention to the old exposure about Mrs Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Mr Robert Vadra’s swift climb from modest to huge financial assets facilitated by his interaction with the DLF Company. The revival of these old allegations raised the political storm that ought to have arisen many months ago. The storm arose only due to the media and to the Congress party itself which felt compelled to respond which it did with inept overdrive. Even till now the opposition reaction is curiously muted and restrained. The Vadra affair should be of course merely the start. Robert Vadra is the tip of an iceberg and much, much more about an unholy nexus between politics and commerce can come out. The IAC team may not confine itself to targeting the Congress. Opposition leaders might become the next victims. The IAC team would do well to spread its net as widely as possible to expose corruption in all parties. If the team wants genuine change it will have to fight not any one or two political parties but the entire political class and the political culture by which it operates. Up till now signs of an attempt for genuine change are positive. This, then, is the first reason why Mrs Sonia Gandhi’s diversionary tactic seems to be failing.
The second reason may be traced to the mess within the Congress party. Rats desert a sinking ship. And the UPA ship is badly wobbling. There are signs of shifting loyalties and new alliances within the party that compound confusion and uncertainty. One may ignore the bit players and focus for the moment only on two key individuals. The first is Mr Robert Vadra himself who is in the eye of the storm. After the controversy flared Mr Vadra tweeted on his Facebook account on the Internet to ridicule “mango people in a banana republic”. ‘Mango people’ was of course a pun on aam admi. Mr Kumar Vishwas representing IAC lashed out at Mr Vadra for insulting the nation. He pointed out that his mother-in-law was running the so-called banana republic. This is what is puzzling. One doest think that Mr Vishwas may be doing Mr Vadra grave injustice. Mr Vadra by most accounts is too astute not to be aware that aam admi is very much the patent of Mrs Sonia Gandhi and the National Advisory Council (NAC) headed by her. So was he obliquely ridiculing his mother-in-law?
It may be recalled that a few months ago Mr Rahul Gandhi gave a call to India’s youth to enter politics. Surprising the Dynasty Mr Vadra responded by announcing his willingness to join. When media asked if he would enter politics he replied that he was overwhelmed by the public’s love and affection! Asked if he would stand for elections he said he would if the people wanted. His remarks hugely embarrassed the Dynasty. Mrs Priyanka Vadra said she knew her husband well and he would never leave business to venture into politics. Mr Vadra however projected the opposite view on TV channels. Considerable confusion regarding relations within the family became evident at the time. On July 2 with tongue in cheek it was written in these columns: “In the world of commerce he (Mr Vadra) has demonstrated his talent to introduce dramatic change in his financial fortune that grew exponentially in a short period of time. Were he to divert his full attention to politics as indicated he might well change the face of India’s largest state to realize Mr Rahul Gandhi’s dream.” After his controversial tweet Mr Vadra has closed his Facebook account and has declared intention to start another. He criticized people for lacking a sense of humour. All said, he remains somewhat of a loose cannon and it remains to be seen how he conducts himself in the future. One doubts if Dynastic discipline could be exercised over him too effectively.
The second individual deserving attention is Mrs Sonia Gandhi’s Political Secretary, Mr Ahmed Patel. It might be recalled that attention had been drawn to media reports that the Prime Minister had complained to Mrs Sonia Gandhi about Mr Patel exerting his influence on the government to allot coal licenses to the wrong people. One expected a public response from Mrs Gandhi. None came. One does not know what might have happened behind the curtain. But subsequently Mrs Gandhi apparently discarded her concerns for aam admi projected up till now by impeding economic reforms and publicly endorsed the Prime Minister’s approach on the economy. She even announced a grand rally to be addressed jointly by the PM and herself in Delhi on October 28 in support of economic reforms and FDI. Does that constitute a snub for Mr Ahmed Patel? Has Mrs Gandhi distanced him? If so, will Mr Patel meekly acquiesce? Up till now he has been the Congress party’s main hatchet man and has effectively dealt with the media and underlings in the party on behalf of his boss. His reach and influence remain formidable. If he is indeed unhappy, how might he use or misuse his power? He is the second key leader in the Congress that needs watching.
On account of these factors the IAC team has an opportunity. The Congress is tottering and the opposition is impotent. If the IAC team achieves success in the Delhi poll it will have made a significant start. Delhi is mini-India. Success here would give it nationwide attention. It would impart to the new party enormous leverage to emerge as the locomotive of change. But first things first. Right now the priority is to humble the government and the opposition in the eyes of the Indian public. That would help in destroying the current political dispensation. First there must be destruction. That will create political space. On that might there be reconstruction.
By Rajinder Puri