How the hand helped the lotus bloom

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Big clash The proposal of PJ Kurien for monetarily helping the financially poor among the upper castes was shot down by P Chidambaram
Big clash The proposal of PJ Kurien for monetarily helping the financially poor among the upper castes was shot down by P Chidambaram

If trends in the recent bypolls and Assembly elections are anything to go by, the Congress is staring at the wrong end of the barrel. The grand old party, which ruled India for more than 60 years, is getting skeletal with its presence shrinking in a majority of the states.

First in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and now in Maharashtra and Haryana, its capitulation is as clear as daylight. In Maharashtra and Haryana, the latter being its stronghold for many years, the Congress is not even the principal Opposition party as it finished third in both the states. The party has been wiped out by a cyclone named Narendra Modi.

Frankly speaking, more than the BJP, credit should go to the Congress for helping the lotus bloom thanks to the latter’s wrong strategies. It seems the Congress has not learnt anything from its recent failures and is hell bent on repeating the same mistakes in poll after poll.

After the nightmare of the Lok Sabha election, a committee headed by former defence minister AK Antony was formed to look into the ills plaguing the party.

In its report, the Antony committee gave a clean chit to the much-maligned Rahul Gandhi and blamed the policy of minority appeasement as the reason for the electoral setbacks. According to the report, the pampering of the Muslim community had alienated the party from upper-caste Hindus and OBCs.

The report stated that the Congress had inadvertently projected Modi as a beacon of hope for the majority community and the BJP promptly capitalised on this. As far as Muslims are concerned, the community did not even bother to vote as they felt that defeat was inevitable for the Congress and their votes would hardly make any difference.

Interestingly, the report was penned by a leader who was unable to win a single Lok Sabha seat when he was the chief minister of Kerala in 2004.

A senior Congress leader said on the condition of anonymity that the party would be reduced to a minority without Sonia Gandhi, Antony and Ahmed Patel. Without these leaders, the party does not have anyone with a national appeal and there is a leadership crisis in the party, the senior leader went on to add.

Many in the party feel that veterans such as Mani Shankar Aiyar and P Chidambaram are no match for Amit Shah and an overhaul in the leadership is long overdue. In fact, Aiyar’s insensitive chaiwallah jibe only made matters worse for the party as it branded the Congress as anti-poor. Even Chidamabaram has done his bit to ruin the party’s prospects, but more on that later.

Two years ago, senior Congress leader and deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha PJ Kurien knew that something was seriously wrong with the party. He understood that the problem was staring in the face of the party but the leaders were unwilling to confront it.

So, he met Sonia and said that the party should stop appeasing a particular minority community at the expense of others. He also said that the UPA regime should immediately disburse Rs 1,000 crore to Rs 2,000 crore to the financially poor among the upper castes. These funds could be utilised for providing education and a better livelihood to the impoverished segment in the majority community.

Kurien added that pampering a particular community has only backfired one way or the other for the party.

Sonia gave her nod to the proposal and shot a letter to the then prime minister Manmohan Singh, marking a copy of the same to the then finance minister Chidambaram highlighting Kurien’s observation. She also asked Kurien to follow up the matter with Manmohan, Chidambaram and Antony. However, the prime minister’s response to the proposal was lukewarm and Chidambaram rejected it. Eventually, Kurien’s effort went down the drain.

Kurien was distraught. After the polls, he took up the matter with Antony. The former made no bones of the fact that minority politics had cost the party dear. Kurien also said that this was only one of the factors for the debacle. Erroneous strategies only added to the Congress’ woes.

Instead of highlighting achievements such as the Food Security Bill and infrastructural upgradation, the party focussed on unwanted issues such as Modi, his humble beginnings and the Gujarat riots.

All these factors meant that the Congress was losing the plot and playing into the hands of the BJP by strengthening Modi’s prospects.

Coming to the chaiwallah barb, the Congress would do well to remember that selling tea is by no means a degrading vocation. Aiyar’s jibe could not have been more ill-timed.

In India, where discussions over a cup of tea at a roadside stall is quite common, the BJP’s Chai pe Charcha programme worked wonders for the party in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls. Tragically, this idea was lost on the Congress as it failed to understand the Indian psyche.

Highly qualified and foreign-educated ministers such as Aiyar and Chidamabaram should have known better. Does Aiyar have any knowledge of grassroots politics? As the finance minister, what sops did Chidamabaram offer to the majority community compared to the benefits given to the minority community? Party leaders would do well if they find the time to ponder over these matters.

According to informed sources, Chidambaram’s wife Nalini and son Karthi were involved in the appointment of key posts in public-sector undertakings and the banking sector. Merit was hardly the basis for the selection and both were rewarded for each appointment.

Senior Congress functionaries, who wished not to be named, have confirmed the wheelings and dealings of Nalini and Karthi. In fact, Nalini used to be a legal adviser for many private-sector undertakings and Karthi was involved in the approval of loans and their extensions in many public-sector banks.

The latter’s involvement in financial matters should be read in the context of idbi sanctioning a loan worth Rs 950 crore during the UPA regime to the now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines, which was financially in a really bad shape.

The Congress hardly did anything to deal with corruption, in general. In fact, the party’s silence over various unholy practices only sullied its image among the electorate and it has already paid a huge price for it.

The million-dollar question is how will the Congress extricate itself from its current mess? The party is badly in need of a saviour to stop its march towards possible extinction.

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