Growing unease afflicting both the Congress and the government Reforms In Full Swing
The Manmohan Singh-led team which is pushing for reforms at “any cost” has decided to go ahead with increasing the pace on FDI, “irrespective of whether the government goes or stays”, said Union Minister Kapil Sibal while speaking to an agency reporter. This comes at a time when opposition parties have begun to increase the momentum on destabilising the government and within the Congress party there is a distinct lack of clarity on how to give a major face lift to both the government and the party.
Kapil Sibal, known to be a hardliner when it comes to pushing the reform agenda, said that reforms would continue and there was no going back “irrespective of whether the government stays or goes”. He said that they were not bothered about the government but would do what was in the interest of the nation and added that FDI was in the interest of the country and that it needed to be brought. He said that the Cabinet would take up amended bills on bringing FDI in the pension and insurance sector and since these need parliamentary approval to become laws, the government has obviously decided to signal to its US partners that it means business and if the bills fall it would not be for lack of trying.
The government believes it has time till after Diwali when the winter session convenes, to woo new supporters who will help push the reforms agenda and feels that some political parties may succumb to the pressure of various agencies which want the government not to delay the reforms process any more. This is because there is a growing perception that time is running out for the UPA government and that it is becoming more and more difficult to find new partners to help it survive the continuous scares from the opposition benches.
Within the Congress, there is so far no clarity on whether the much-discussed reshuffle of the Cabinet and the Congress party will actually materialise once the inauspicious Shraddh period ends on October 15. Sources say that while there are a number of vacancies in the government and an extensive exercise took place on the reshuffle, it was decided to postpone it till mid-October primarily because the parties who were approached by the government to join the Cabinet or recommend fresh names politely but firmly declined, sending a wave of panic at the highest level in the government and the party. This included the DMK also. A section wants the leadership to wait till January and go ahead with the reshuffle only if the government survives the winter session of Parliament.
Sources in the party say the current uncertainty is not only because the election commission has announced the dates for the elections to the Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat assemblies in November and December, with party leaders being busy in the selection of candidates and the actual election campaign.
The growing perception is that there are serious differences between Sonia and Rahul Gandhi on how the changes need to be effected. According to a senior leader who is a long time watcher of the Congress party, any reshuffle can only be meaningful if it changes the dynamics of the power equations within the Congress and the government. Rahul is credited with the view that until the matrix changes there is no point in any reshuffle. Sonia Gandhi is not prepared to make drastic and sweeping changes which would give a new look and feel to the party and the government. That is where the penny between the mom and the son is stuck.
Another credible issue between the two is the amount of equity she vests in him when it comes to taking important decisions on appointments, on promotions, on sackings and on policy initiatives.. While it is true that Rahul Gandhi does not need any post to increase his stature and ranking in the Congress party by virtue of being a Gandhi and the natural successor to Sonia Gandhi (which is why Motilal Vora the senior most leader in the congress walks to the gate whenever Rahul comes visiting the AICC headquarters), it is also true that he is at the moment not being allowed to take decisions as most of his suggestions are either ignored or put down.
Those close to the young leader say he needs to be able to take decisions when it comes to appointments of state leaders or even central office-bearers to send a message down the party that he is in command and is in control of major issues within the party. For the moment his grouse is that neither he, nor mom Sonia nor the PM is taking decisions and he wants to know why such a state of affairs is being allowed to continue.
Sources say that when it comes to FDI both the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi sent clear messages that enough time had been wasted and that they should go ahead and implement the decision. Taking the bull by the horn, the government went ahead and announced it, even as there was a nationwide outcry against the decision. But to give the message of unity, the Congress has decided to justify the decision on a daily basis and along with that a joint rally would be held on October 28 in the capital where both Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh would be present and all Congress Chief Ministers and Members of Parliament have been asked to be present. This is in the nature of a whip and no excuses would be tolerated, said a senior leader.
Some Congress Chief Ministers whose survival has come into question have begun to outdo each other to showcase the import and benefits of bringing in FDI in multi-brand retail and how it would benefit the farmers. It began with Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit who brought in supporters and extolled the virtues of FDI. The next day it was the turn of next-door neighbour, the Haryana Chief Minister Hooda to bring in farmers to Delhi in support of FDI. But he pushed his son, MP Deepender Hooda to lead from the front to show how effective he is, since Sheila Dikshit’s son Sandeep has been made a party spokesman while Hooda junior is still looking for a placement. The farmers’ delegations met Sonia Gandhi and told her how happy and delighted they were with the coming of FDI. It is expected that Rajasthan Chief Minister may also follow with his own showing in the days to come.
But despite the best efforts to put the best foot forward, there is a deep and growing unease within both the Congress and the government. MPs are convinced the citadel is crumbling and have begun to spend more and more time in their constituencies and they include important ministers who have a good feel of the lay of the land within the party. With allies dropping out, old partners refusing to renew pledges taken earlier, new potential allies refusing to play ball, and both the left and the right caught in a series of circumstances where they will find it difficult to bail the government out, the only hope is the kind and the amount of arm twisting by super player USA, when it comes to keeping UPA alive and kicking. In the meantime the reforms wagon will continue, full steam ahead.
By Renu Mittal