Sunday, March 13, 2011

Congress needs Prozac

Congress needs Prozac
By M J Akbar

Byword - In India Today
March 11, 2011

It seems reasonable to suggest that any political organisation with both Stalin and Napoleon on its frontlines, as DMK can boast, should make short shrift of a party with a mere Gandhi at its head. But the Karunanidhi vs Sonia Gandhi sideshow within the larger drama of the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections was always a no-contest. Bluster is hopeless against cool. And when Mrs Sonia Gandhi decides to be cool, polar icecaps break into envious applause. Karunanidhi did not melt because Congress generated extra levels of warmth; he froze when Delhi lowered the temperature. Sonia Gandhi doesn't mind exaggeration, which is after all a normal ploy in the competition for political space. She drew the line at blackmail. She also knew the answer to two questions: Who had more to gain? Who had less to lose?

The DMK's implied threat, to withdraw from the UPA, was always pointless because no party wants another General Election so soon, which is the only possible consequence of destabilising Dr Manmohan Singh. An alternative government within this Parliament is impossible, for the very reason that has created distance between the Congress and the DMK: corruption. The BJP can hardly hug the DMK after targeting A. Raja and the Karunanidhi family as the epitome of evil. There is no support for a no-confidence motion. The Government's majority will be tested, if at all, in 2012. Nor can DMK fight an Assembly election alone. Such adventurism could drag it down to single digits.

Karunanidhi had nowhere to go except back to Congress. Partners understand the occasional tantrum. The art of politics is tested in the management of a tantrum; you need to punish the prodigal, but not humiliate him too much. Mrs Gandhi measured her response carefully, stepping between indifference and accommodation. The political pirouette was played out with finesse, with a cameo role allotted for the official Congress counsellor for marital disputes, Pranab Mukherjee.

The bad news is that while the alliance might survive, the relationship is over. DMK and Congress are now travelling in opposite directions, dexterously evading a collision. There is nothing sentimental about the rupture, although Karunanidhi's grievance is personal.

He believes that he brought Congress to power in 2004, and that debt can be repaid only with a blank cheque. Congress did compensate with delay after Raja looted the treasury, but the Supreme Court ended such generous back-scratching. Perhaps Karunanidhi thinks that a clever government ought to evade a court's orders. The prime minister does not know how to, and the Congress does not want to. Sops offered to calm nerves, perhaps in the form of a deal over CBI's pursuit of the Karunanidhi family, will not survive the scrutiny of Parliament or the Supreme Court. Moreover, this spat, coming on top of 2G corruption, has ravaged this alliance's credibility. If DMK-Congress lose in Tamil Nadu, the equation alters. The Congress will need DMK in Delhi, but not be able to reciprocate in Chennai. How long can you walk on a one-way street?

It is ironic that Mrs Sonia Gandhi, who can play the macro game well enough, should flounder at the micro level. At times she seems to understand her allies better than her party. Power is normally an aphrodisiac for a party; in the case of Congress, it has become a depressant. Once the Queen of the Gangetic Belt, the Congress is sagging again in Uttar Pradesh, close to negative territory in Bihar and at the whim of its own byproduct, Mamata Banerjee, in Bengal. The Brahmaputra is kinder to Congress fortunes, but that is fringe comfort. After all the huff and puff in Tamil Nadu, Congress will contest only 63 seats out of 234 in Tamil Nadu. Its allies are bargaining for a greater chunk within the UDF in Kerala. Omit Assam, and a startling fact emerges: the Congress is contesting less than 30 per cent of the seats in states that send over 100 seats to the Lok Sabha. This is not a statistic that will encourage the Congress to contest the next elections alone. If the party cannot do this after a decade in power, it will not be able to do so in the foreseeable future.

Its only strategy is dubious. Build no edifice of your own, and wait for others to collapse. The flaw is obvious. There are other players. Laloo Yadav was replaced by Nitish Kumar in Bihar, and the Left is being upstaged by Mamata Banerjee in Bengal. The BJP is on the move in Orissa, and inching back to visibility in Uttar Pradesh. Jagan Reddy is the flavour of the moment in Andhra Pradesh. The Congress clearly has two problems: one with its foes, and the other with its friends. If it does not create some distance from its friends, it could be outdistanced by its foes.


Anoop Verma said...

The supreme greatness of M J Akbar lies in his choice of words. Only he can make the description of the nasty cesspool of India politics read like a review of an exquisite work of art. It is almost as if he is describing a painting created by a painter who is on verge of madness – the works that Van Gogh created before be sunk into madness.

I hope the fate of Congress and the DMK won’t be like that of the great painter Van Gogh. I hope they won’t pass into the realm of madness after having ascended such highs of glory. There is still time, at least for the Congress, where the grand old party can engineer a change in its image.

They need to reform the government, which has become too big and too unmanageable. Reform measures have to be taken up in a big way. Why should we have more than 80 ministers? Having more than 80 ministers is a sure recipe for corruption. You just can’t stop corruption from happening if you have so many ministers. The number of ministers should be cut down to single digits.

A little bit of corruption, done in a subtle way, might be conducive for getting you into power, but brazen and outrageous acts of corruption (like the 2G, CWG, etc scams) will lead to the corruption of minds of the powerful elite. Once the mind is gone of what use would be the billions of $$$$ be that they have stolen from the poor of the country!

A People said...

I think India needs some reforms to make its coalition governments become more stable and less amenable to blackmailing by smaller partners who become king makers.

Germany has a system of positive vote of confidence which means in order to pull down a government, it is not enough to pass a no confidence vote; an alternative coalition has to prove a majority for a government to fall.

Because of this rule, Germany has only faced two votes of confidence since this constitution came into effect (about 1948) out of which only one vote was successful.

As a result their coalitions are more stable and stronger.

We need such reforms too.

Rajan Alexander said...

Battle for Tamil Nadu: Just How Formidable is the DMK Alliance?

In the 2004 General Elections, an alliance led by the DMK clean swept the state despite being decimated by the AIDMK in the Assembly polls four years earlier. The DMK alliance then included the re-united Congress (after the merger of Tamil Manila Congress with its parent body); the two Communist parties; the PMK and the MDMK. Because the decimation of the opposition was as comprehensive as it could be as reflected in the 40-0 result, 2004 is widely considered by political pundits as the benchmark for the ultimate formidability of the DMK alliance.

In the next General Election in 2009, the DMK alliance lost a good chunk of their formidability with MDMK, PMK, CPI and CPM bolting from its stables to those of AIDMK. Despite this, the DMK alliance still managed to stun pundits by running away with 70% of the seats. Both alliances have expanded their constituent party numbers since 2009 - the number of parties within the AIDMK going up from 5 to 14 and the DMK from 3 to 7.

So how formidable is the present DMK alliance viz-a-viz 2009 and in relation to their rival AIDMK? This is the first post of a series of backgrounder to the Tamil Nadu Assembly Elections

Read More:

કshyaપ શાh said...

Why would you call a "1 way street"? Karunanidhi and his family is under intense pressure and would be rather NOT be in the bad books of the queen, irrespective of if they win/lose in TN, of course except it they win BIG time.
Congress already has a "1 way street" working fine with BSP and SP - both support at center and treat Congress like dogs in UP....its all politics..hamam mei sub nange hain!

zenbaba said...

The Congress's strategies have always been dubious, irrational, and whimsical but more so in the past ten years. There is little hope that Congress will in the next few election emerge as a single largest party. Hence dependency on regional parties will remain. Mrs Gandhi can keep playing 'chicken', but the day is not far, when she will 'blink' first. Orbituary time for Congress, that would be.

Most political relationship, and sexual relationships have something in common. Both hitch up for the same reason- Orgasmic releif. Politics does make strange bedfellows. -Faiz_