There is something wrong with the Congress. And if the Ministers consult an astrological guru he will tell them they need to change their entire life styles to get the stars to shine again. At every moment of crisis a mini-war breaks out within the party, with Ministers and General secretaries fighting each other, as they seek to pass the blame for wrong policies and absurd strategies to whosoever is standing in the rain without sufficient protection. Congress President Sonia Gandhi maintains a grim silence through it all, while her son Rahul Gandhi lets it be known through unconfirmed sources that his views do not tally with the action taken by the government, or the party, or the individual on the ground.
The Ramdev controversy was just one in a series, where the Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Home Minister P.Chidambaram were at each other’s throats, while the soothsayer of the Congress party Digvijay Singh emerged castigating the government at large, and specifically targeting the Finance Minister. Meanwhile the party managers let it be known that both Sonia Gandhi and her son were not happy with the turn of events, and did not support Mukherjee, Sibal and the government for rushing to placate the yoga guru through a “deal” that finally did not work.
It is no secret that the Congress President is the command and control voice of the Congress party and the government. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh cannot move without consulting her, and nor can any of the Ministers. Pranab Mukherjee, a wily politician, takes good care toensure that she is kept in the loop on all major and many minor issues, and that his back is always well covered as a result. The decision to tackle Ramdev was not solely of the ‘government’ but of the Congress party as well that decided to send its four leaders, who happened to be Ministers, to tackle the guru. Given the importance of the issue,and the politics being played out over it, the party top brass was kept fully informed. Sources make it clear that there was nothing cloak and dagger about the meetings, and the Ministers had got the necessary clearance to see if Ramdev could be controlled.
But look at the price democracy is paying for all this drama. First, the government in its intolerance started planting stories against civil society members like Anna Hazare and others, accusing them of corruption, questioning their right to speak. When this did not work and the fraud of a fraudulent CD was exposed, the government started dragging its feet on the Lokpal Bill, with Pranab Mukherjee sending out a yes/no list of questions to political parties to answer. As CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat rightly responded, the issue concerned is far over and above the scope of these questions. Surely, the government could have called an all party meeting to discuss the issue instead of sending out childish questions to political leaders.
Then came the Ramdev drama with the government rushing four senior Ministers to talk to him. The arrogance and intolerance of the government was visible throughout, in the Ministers dealing with the media, in their anger and refusal to answer legitimate questions, and finally in the brutal police attack on the sleeping supporters of the yoga guru. There has been no apology, only justification with the Home Minister P.Chidambaram stepping in to issue all kinds of threats. He really needs to check the tone and tenor of his speech and realise that he is just a politician, who happens to be a minister, and his strength can only come from the people he has been elected to serve. He has started lacing his sentences with threats, and this needs to be checked immediately as this is a democracy and not a authoritarian country run by despots. Unfortunately the media has become so pliant and servile that Chidambaram gets away with speech that would have created a storm of protest and walkouts by journalists even till 15 years ago.
In the midst of all this brouhaha the government imposed a curfew like situation covering ten police stations in the capital. Protests were banned and even a trade union demonstration was called off. It now seems that after banning protests at the Boat Club lawns that had served as Delhi’s Hyde Park since after independence, the government has now decided to stop protests at the alternative Jantar Mantar site. The intention is to push protestors struggling against repressive measures and for their rights, out of the capital to some remote spot where their voices will not disturb the corridors of power. This is a serious violation of democratic rights, and one can only hope that the government wakes up to the fact that the Constitution of India enshrines the fundamental rights of the people to speech, expression and no political party or alliance has the power to tamper with it.
This fear of free expression, of the right to protest, is the hallmark of weak, directionless governments that do not like to be confronted with the reality and the truth, and like the proverbial ostrich actually believe that if they bury their heads deep into the sand, the protests and the people will go away. This, unfortunately does not happen and the anger simmers until it explodes. Price rise, corruption and the violation of democratic rights in different parts of the country has led to seething discontent and this has to be tackled head on. Instead the evasiveness of the Congress is in full display, as the government and the party work together to create confusion and chaos and bring in more and more stringent laws and measures to repress the people.
There is no point in blaming the RSS and the BJP as most of the Congress leaders are doing. The RSS and the BJP will take advantage of the situation, that is their job as the gleeful dance at Rajghat demonstrated. The Opposition will take on issues to embarrass and weaken the government. The people, however, expect the government they have elected to power to handle their concerns skillfully and honestly, to tackle price rise with strong economic measures, to bring the corrupt to book instead of protecting them, to ensure stringent laws checking corruption are implemented in a transparent manner, and to respect protest and dissent as essentual for the well being of a democratic, free, sovereign nation. Unfortunately the Congress has failed on all fronts, it does not see price rise as an issue, it is protecting the corrupt, and it is using repressive tactics to check the people who protest.
Of course at the time of writing this, Pranab Mukherjee has become the target boy for the government and the party as obviously is not too happy with him, and he has to be brought down a notch or so before the attack is called off.