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Silent PM, talkative Congress members

Saturday, September 04, 2010 11:49:32 AM, Amulya Ganguli, IANS

Dr Manmohan Singh addressing from the rampart of the Red Fort this Independence Day on August 15, 2010. He is the 3rd PM to address this way 7th times.

(File Photo)

As a broad church party, the Congress was never known for organisational discipline. The habit of its members speaking out of turn was always a feature of its functioning. Few will be surprised, therefore, at some of the latest episodes which have seen important party leaders voicing contradictory views.
 

Even if these are regarded as a sign of inner-party democracy, critics will see them as evidence of latent groupism. What is more, the suspicion will be that such conflicting views cannot be expressed without hidden encouragement from powerful behind-the-scene actors.

Some of the issues on which partymen have been ranged against one another include the use of the term "saffron terror" by Home Minister P. Chidambaram, the education bill, the Commonwealth Games and the policy towards the Maoists.

It can also be recalled that the Congress was divided over the Indo-US nuclear deal last year. While party president Sonia Gandhi declared that the Communists had a point in opposing it, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was very much in its favour.

In addition, the party has been ambivalent about the economic reforms right from their inception in 1991. In fact, large sections ascribed the party's defeat in 1996 to the alleged pro-rich bias of the reforms. Even now, the letters L P G are disparagingly used by some in the Congress to describe the phenomenon of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation associated with the reforms.

The term, saffron terror, however, has set off a mini-storm in the party and outside. Considering that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had raised serious objections about the phrase, describing saffron as the colour of India's spiritualism, Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh might have been expected to observe a little more restraint while virtually endorsing the BJP's stance.

But although Digvijay Singh tried to dilute the impact of his criticism by saying that terror should not be associated with any community, caste, religion or colour - like green, for instance, which is associated with Muslims - it is doubtful whether he would have been as vociferous if someone other than Chidambaram had used the term.

A few months ago, Digvijay Singh had berated the home minister for his "intellectual arrogance" in a newspaper article in connection with the latter's hardline anti-Maoist drive. The accusation had drawn the suggestion from Chidambaram that if anyone thought he could do the job of home minister better, he was welcome to take charge.

While much of this is grist to the journalistic mill, the impression can gain ground from such exchanges that the party is speaking in many voices because, first, it is unable to frame coherent policies and, second, because of the rise of factionalism due to personal animus.

The same will now be presumed about the education bill since the government was unable to ensure its passage through the upper house of parliament. More than any resistance from the opposition benches, the failure was due to protests from Keshava Rao, a Congress MP, who has also been critical of Chidambaram's anti-Maoist policy.

Little wonder that the road block faced by the education bill has perked up the BJP. With the Congress facing internal dissent, the BJP has shed some of the demoralisation which affected the party after its defeat last year. This recovery of spirits may explain Narendra Modi's unseemly dig at the prime minister over the lack of preparations for the Commonwealth Games.

While the Gujarat chief minister's comment that the sporting venues may not be ready even if the prime minister himself mops the floors is undoubtedly coarse, what is one to make of Congress MP Mani Shankar Aiyar's remark that he will be extremely unhappy if the Games are successful? If they fail, it will shame the country before the world. Is this ignominy something which a ruling party member should desire?

Apart from the stalling of the education bill, the government has had to defer several other legislative measures, including the prevention of torture bill and the proposed amendment of the enemy property act. These postponements made the BJP leader, Arun Jaitley, say that the government was "losing direction".

The only success for the government was the passage of the nuclear liability bill with the BJP's help. This wasn't unexpected, however, because after having opposed the nuclear deal last year along with the Left, the BJP realised that persisting with the same anti-American line would further alienate its middle class supporters.

Arguably, the conflicting views in the Congress may be partly due to the curious silence which the prime minister has been observing of late. Noting this lack of communication on Manmohan Singh's part, Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Sitaram Yechury said that the prime minister did not intervene in any of the major discussions in parliament, such as on price rise or the Bhopal gas tragedy, in order to give "a direction to the government or the country".

Congress president Sonia Gandhi, too, has not been all that forthcoming. This strange reticence at the top may have enabled some of those lower down to speak more often than they would have if the official and party positions were made clearer by the prime minister and the party chief.



(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst.

He can be reached at aganguli@mail.com)

 

 

 

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