The Congress seems to be sinking
deeper into a quagmire of scams. If the party thought it had
survived the first onslaught of the swindles tarnishing its name
by jailing some of the suspects, the appearance of a second round
of accusations has pushed it back into the swamp.
The latest crisis is apparently worse than the earlier one because
the prime minister and Delhi's chief minister have been
implicated. The incarcerated Suresh Kalmadi again features in the
charges with questions being asked as to why he was allowed to run
a private fiefdom in the run up to the Commonwealth Games despite
the opposition of three sports ministers - Sunil Dutt, Mani
Shankar Aiyar and M.S. Gill.
The naming of Manmohan Singh and Sheila Dikshit means a shadow has
fallen on two of the party's most well regarded personalities, the
prime minister for initiating the two-decade-old economic reforms
and its wealth-creation opportunities and the Delhi chief minister
for her three successive electoral victories because of the
commendable work she has done in improving Delhi's infrastructure
Sonia Gandhi's illness at this critical time is another blow, for
it has left the Congress without a guiding hand at the helm. Both
the four-member panel constituted by her to act in her absence and
the so-called "core" group, which is now being headed by the prime
minister, are no more than ad hoc arrangements.
At the same time, Rahul Gandhi's inclusion in the new panel cannot
but set off mild organisational tremors not only because it
reaffirms his high position in the pecking order but also because
it suggests the possibility of his anointment as prime minister
even earlier than the currently presumed year of 2014. As a
result, a marginal diminution of Manmohan Singh's position is
An indication of the uneasiness in Congress ranks is evident from
its criticism of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of
India for exceeding his brief of being a mere accountant by
straying into matters of policy and politics. The fact that even
the prime minister voiced his displeasure points to the level of
disquiet although the Congress, traditionally, has generally taken
care to avoid public censure of autonomous institutions.
Yet, the fact that first the Supreme Court and then the CAG have
done a yeoman's service to the campaign against corruption is
obviously unsettling the Congress for they have highlighted the
party's failures in this respect. It cannot be gainsaid that but
for the Supreme Court's supervisory role, the Central Bureau of
Investigation (CBI) would not have been so relentless in its
pursuit of the corrupt.
The Congress' awareness that the public has greater faith in the
higher judiciary and the CAG has evidently made it critical of
even the Supreme Court on its ruling, for instance, in the black
money case, among others. But, unless the party is able to
refurbish its anti-graft credentials in a major way - like setting
up special courts to try the corrupt, as it has often promised -
it will continue to be on the defensive.
It is the party's hesitancy in this matter which has enabled the
civil society group to hog the headlines although its disparate
nature and offensive tactics, like burning copies of the Lokpal
bill, have become obvious even to some of its supporters. The
Congress, however, has done precious little so far to cleanse its
image from its longstanding taint of corruption.
Even today when the Congress is so much on the backfoot, it will
be hard put to cite a single instance to show that it has made a
substantive forward movement to nab the hoarders of black money.
Its complaint, therefore, that the Supreme Court is encroaching on
the executive's turf by taking over the investigations into the
wealth secreted away abroad will not find many supporters.
What the Congress has apparently been unable to understand is due
to the economic reforms it started the social scene, and
especially the upper and middle classes, have changed beyond
recognition in the last two decades.
There are pockets of backwardness, of course, exemplified by the
phenomenon of honour killings and the banning of films even after
their approval by the censor board. But, even these incidents show
that the young men and women in the so-called backward
communities, as well as the artists, are straining at the leash of
Similarly, crony capitalism and unwarranted official patronage,
which are so evident in the various scams, are a throwback to a
semi-feudal age, which still has its admirers in the Congress who
are unhappy with the market-oriented policies.
Since the social changes require a transformation of the political
scene, ordinary people have begun to realise how the roots of
corruption lie in the partisan control which the political class
wants to maintain over the bureaucracy and the business world. The
Congress, the primus inter pares among parties because of its
126-year history, is suffering because it has done little to
address this issue.
Amulya Ganguli is a
political analyst. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org