Congress, out of league and out of sync
When Lalu Prasad cosied up to Ram Vilas Paswan in a secret seat-sharing deal in Bihar, the Machiavellian politician was merely showing Congress its place. Lalu's move may have surprised Sonia Gandhi but had she had ear to the ground she would have know what was coming. The problem is not Laloo. He has been the most loyal partner Sonia could have ever had. The problem is Congress itself.
The problem is Congress' claustrophobic style of functioning; its refusal to see political reasoning beyond a point; its depleting mass base in Hindi heartland; its increasing dependence on allies in different states; its vacuous next generation leadership; its meandering vision which is taking it nowhere, and its weak-kneed effort in taking on communal forces. In the last five years, the Congress has proved to be an ineffective salesman--a change from the time of Indira Gandhi's 'garibi hatao' slogan.
It has lost coherence in UP, lost its voice in Bihar, and it has been dumped in Madhya Pradesh, which produced a Congress-style, modern Chanakya in D P Mishra. Modi has made Congress almost effete in Gujarat. The party almost got defeated in Rajasthan, trounced in Chhattisgarh and washed out in Himachal. If Chandra Babu Naidu, Chiranjeevi and Telangana Rashtra Samithi have their way, then a probable wash-out looms ahead in Andhra Pradesh as well. The Congress got over-confident and lost in Karnataka, allowing space to a party which made its governmental debut in the electoral history of the state. In fact, the people of Kashmir also rejected the party for having rowed the Kashmir houseboat from a ready-to-take off stage to nowhere.
And now the allies have put more salt on the Congress' wound. Pawar is playing smart in Maharashtra (staking claim on the PM's post); Laloo and Paswan have already bruised Congress's hand in Bihar by offering it mere 3 seats; Mulayam is playing hard ball with Congress refusing to offer more than 16 seats in UP, and Mamata Banerjee, who walked out of the Congress fold 10 years ago, has Pranabda firmly in her hold. The Dravidian parties have always been merciless in their bargaining with North Indian parties, Congress or BJP. The Congress will have to brace itself for further pain when the Dravidian seat-sharing chapter gets opened.
In terms of number, the Congress' prospects do not hold much in the coming Lok Sabha elections. Political pundits have already predicted a hung parliament. Congress has stoically opposed 'national' seat sharing with any of its partners. And by insisting on Manmohan Sing the Congress is living in its own cosy castle, removed from the ground realities. It presumes too many things-one being that only the Congress has the rightful claim to the throne. Probably why Sharad Pawar finds the idea revolting and declared that partners are at liberty to project their own PM candidate. And this is where it hurts the Congress even more.
Pawar's voice is not a solitary strain. He has voiced the sentiments of most alliance partners who come from remote corners of the country only to realize their dreams of making it big in New Delhi. If a black American can defy history, then a Chandrashekhar Rao, a Paswan or a Mayawati too have the audacity to hope. And rightfully so.
But why should Congress loath the idea being floated by its alliance partners? Why can't a Sharad Pawar, a Mulayam Singh, a Mayawati, a Chandrababu Naidu, Lalu, Paswan and even a Prakash Karat or a Budhadeb (if the Left decides not to repeat party's historic blunder of 1996) stake claim to country's CEO provided they decided to glue together as one entity post poll to "defeat the communal forces." If all the seemingly disparate elements could come to join and support the UPA bandwagon under Manmohan, the same disparate entity called UPA could also search for its non-congress PM. We have had them earlier also. For good two years the Congress propped up United Front government in 1996. It then short-changed Deve Gowda mid-stream for I K Gujral and then dumped Gujral a year later.
But things have moved on since the United Front days. In fact political history and political arithmetic have changed from the days of JMM bribery scandal. The same JMM is now an alliance partner of the Congress in Jharkhand. In fact, half of the then United Front has coalesced with UPA. The rest have vowed to revive United Front albeit in a different avatar as Third Front. If the Congress can have a three-year pact with Mufti Mahmood Saeed in Kashmir, have its own chief minister in Maharashtra despite alliance partner NCP having fared better, if allies can prop up UPA government and accept Manmohan as their leader, if the Congress can shamelessly seek support from its one-time anathema Mulayam just to ensure the survival of the UPA government, the Congress should have the gumption and the courage to back partners in propping up their leader as the Prime Minister of India. It only behoves the elder partner for making that much extra sacrifice to ensure longevity of the UPA coalition. If politics is all about give and take then Congress should sacrifice the PM ship for its alliance partners and get ready to be led rather than lead.
Times are changing. The CPI-M seems ready to review its much flogged controversial "historic blunder" stance. The Congress will also have to change. Not for anything but for its own political survival. How about a scenario of having Prakash Karat chairing cabinet meetings at 7 Race Course Road or a Karat-backed Mayawati as the prime minister or a Laloo-backed Paswan for the country's top job and Pranab babu as deputy prime minister. Although Pranabda will hate to step into Advani's shoes but past five years he has precisely and beautifully fulfilled the role as a deputy to PM. As they say politics is the art of impossible. Much is at stake for both Karat and Sonia, and much depends on how Karat nudges Congress out of its stupor so that the two could never afford to repeat the historic blunder.
More about Prabhat ShungluPrabhat has been a journalist for the last 19 years. Began his career as a cub reporter with The Statesman before moving on to The Pioneer and The Times of India. Was a member of the core team of reporters that helped launch 24-hour news channel Aaj Tak. Extensively reported from war zones of Kargil, Afghanistan and Iraq. Covered national and Assembly elections in J&K, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh. And disasters like Gujarat earthquake. Headed the North India bureau of Star News. Currently, Editor-Special Assignments with IBN7.
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