Miguel de Cervantes, the Spanish novelist who made a lovable Don Quixote charge at windmills, was a compulsive optimist. Not surprising, therefore, that the author once said: “In order to attain the impossible, one must attempt the absurd.” Several hundred years later, the Congress appears to have taken this advice too seriously.
As it tries to repair its scam-tarnished image, the Grand Old Party is trying to undo the irreparable damage that has been done to its credibility and standing. It is an exercise which is both “absurd” and “impossible”. The party, nevertheless, believes there is no harm in making an effort because Cervantes was not the type who ever gave up.
If the timing of a fresh scam delivering a body blow is decided by sheer providence then Congress has every reason to complain of bad luck. The party was busy flexing its muscles after having executed both Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru in quick succession. There was no chest-thumping because the party had to maintain political decorum. But there was no denying that the Congress leadership felt a lot more secure after snatching the “insecurity” plank from the BJP.
Then, a resurgent Congress, preparing to ward off the noisy Opposition in the budget session, had the unnerving experience of the VVIP chopper crash-landing on its head. It was back to where it was. The BJP again had the upper hand. For the Congress, praying for a revival, it was like staring down a bottomless pit.
If this is the trend and if a continuing procession of scams relentlessly tramples upon the Congress, the BJP campaigners may well sit idle. Once canvassing for the polls begin, they will not have much to do except recite the names of all the corruption scandals since 2010 one after the other. That alone should be enough to win a general election.
For those who argue that corruption is no longer a decisive poll issue in a cynical India need to feel the palpable anger on the streets. Inflation is an unforgiveable administrative failure especially in a season of unprecedented corruption. There may be some logic in the argument that the vast rural hinterland may not weigh the Centre’s performance while deciding on its vote. But as in the Bofors election of 1989, corruption conversation is being echoed in the countryside and the Congress cannot breathe easy.
The Indian voter always makes the ruling party or coalition pay a heavy price for what it conceives to be political arrogance. Indira Gandhi had experienced the phenomenon first-hand in 1977. The voters’ collective wrath knew no bounds after the Emergency. To some extent, even the haughtiness of the India Shining campaign launched by a conceited NDA in 2004 was defeated by the majority electorate. They are especially unforgiving to those politicians who take the voters’ pulse for granted.
This Congress government is staring at certain defeat for a similar, over-confident streak. There is unchained arrogance in the manner in which it has run the government, assuming that corruption would never determine fortunes in Indian elections. Some hopeful results like the recent outcome in the party’s favour in Himachal Pradesh have lent it extraordinary self-belief. Such confidence is bound to be punctured by the wise electorate, which, despite the unimpressive literacy rates, has often voted with remarkable prudence and astuteness.
Corruption and price-rise are going to be the two overarching issues which will determine the political journey of this country beyond 2014. It is too late for the Congress to rewrite the course of history by entering into new alliances or by improving its fortunes where it is expected to be overrun by the BJP. Already, it is looking terribly insecure in state after state, where its performance was simply impressive four years ago. The BJP looks better organized in provinces where the Congress is taking the lotus brigade head on.
Unending scams invariably result in the disillusionment of the urban voter. It is the city constituencies where the Congress performed phenomenally in 2009. Now, this same segment of the electorate, especially the educated younger voter, has disowned the Congress and moved on. The BJP is going to be the major gainer from this trend. No wonder, the arrival of Narendra Modi in the poll scene has given the BJP the dream of making it beyond the amazing tally of 200.
Even the greatest of Chidambaram budgets may not be enough to extricate the Congress from the mess it finds itself in. The electorate knows that in the twenty-first century it cannot trust the same ruling dispensation with more than two consecutive terms.