I thought election 2014 would come with nailbiting suspense until I turned up at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club on Mathura Road where the Congress whiz kid from Chicago, Sam Pitroda, was holding court in a Tarpauline Tent which looked like a parking lot for camels.
Every now and then he would throw up his hands and shrug his shoulders in an expression of disgust. “What can I do?” he would ask in a state of despair. He was lamenting the spectacular way in which the Congress was about to lose the elections.
According to him, Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi refused to meet the press, connect with the people, even when the “opposition” campaign consisted overwhelmingly of media management. He spelt out other reasons for the coming debacle, among them a singular lack of commitment or application on the part of the coteries around the trio. He shrugged his shoulders again and blurted out in Chicago accents: “That’s what we gaat (got)”. He repeated. “That’s what we gaat”. In other words the human resource in the service of the party was devoid of talent.
Bifurcation of power between Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh was bad enough, but the emergence of a third power centre, Rahul Gandhi, after the party’s reasonable showing in the 2009 elections, turned out to be disastrous. Rahul should have become a minister in the Prime Minister’s office. That way he would have learnt the system, Pitroda said.
Instead, Rahul was persuaded by his coterie to become the third power centre. The three coteries then proceeded not to talk to each other. And now that defeat stares Congressmen in the face, one detects the beginnings of recrimination.
Is it not surprising that a confidant of the Gandhi family should be throwing in the towel in public view a full month before the last polling day?
The mood in the house of another Gandhi loyalist was almost funereal. Also, a fierce blame-game had begun:
“Manmohan Singh and his Principal Secretary during UPA-I, T.K.A. Nair lost their grip on the administration. Officials down the line stopped listening to us. Gradually, a sense grew that there was no government in Delhi.”
Congressmen have developed a culture in recent years of backbiting their seniors consistently and in whispers. If you string together these “whispers”, what emerges is a disturbing narrative of the Congress High Command and their coteries, allowing power to slip out of their hands, like a sand glass. What they supervise today is a structure which has been hollowed out. A coup of sorts has already taken place. Retired Supreme Court judges have refused to head a committee to investigate “snoopgate” against Narendra Modi.
Army generals, senior bureaucracy, including home secretaries, have crossed over to their party of choice on the morrow of their retirement. A whole system has in its mind defected.
No one heard Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde when he went around beating his breast that Home Secretary R.K. Singh was not listening to him. The way Singh supervised Afzal Guru’s hanging in Tihar jail was allegedly in violation of Shinde’s instructions. Having brought about closure of a case which had its origins in the NDA, Singh crossed over to the BJP.
Long knives are out even against political colleagues like former law minister, Hansraj Bhardwaj and home minister, Shivraj Patil. During UPA-I, they are alleged to have hesitated in taking timely action against Modi in Gujarat. The implication of this astonishing plaint is that the two gents were closet Hindutva. If that indeed is what the High Command thought of them, why were they gifted with comfortable gubernatorial slots? In the cloak and dagger world of courtly politics, ministers of home and law respectively must be kept in good humour. They know too much.
Meanwhile, an ironical twist attends the fate of the Congress. While some of its own stalwarts have thrown in the towel, warranting Sharad Pawar’s anxious plea that it must fight harder, the Left Front’s secret assessment is that the Congress will win 135 seats. To reinforce this line of optimism, youth wings of the Left parties including CPIML have been sent to Varanasi to help Ajai Rai of the Congress in his contest against Modi and Arvind Kejriwal. Powerful Muslim candidate Mukhtar Ansari’s withdrawal from Varanasi had tilted the scales in Kejriwal’s favour. But the Left priority here seem to be not so much to defeat Modi but to keep AAP in check and also to hold out an olive branch to the Congress for a possible post election game plan.
(11.04.2014. A senior commentator on political and diplomatic affairs, Saeed Naqvi can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org)