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How things 'really' work in the Congress

Friday, 23 December 2011 - 9:00am IST Updated: Friday, 23 December 2011 - 1:17am IST | Agency: dna

The government has framed 5 major bills to protect whistleblowers, enhance judicial accountability, strengthen anti-money laundering operations, ensure time-bound delivery of services and tackle corruption.

Let’s fight the forces out to destabilise us, forces who never accepted the verdict of 2004, and never reconciled themselves to the renewed mandate we got in 2009.’ Brave words from Congress president Sonia Gandhi, though the temptation to say ‘brave last words’ was great, as the party’s hold on the government seems to be slipping rapidly.

As party leader, Gandhi had to say this in the hope that the ‘war cry’ would ignite her sagging party into some action in the field.

Most of the action now is reserved for Parliament, where its MPs hope to be noticed and rewarded — with another term perhaps — for their loyalty. In the field, the party is not visible except where some leaders, like Amarinder Singh in Punjab, have been allowed to survive. In states like UP, leaders appear and disappear with Rahul Gandhi.

The government, as Gandhi pointed out, has framed five major bills to protect whistleblowers, enhance judicial accountability, strengthen anti-money laundering operations, ensure time-bound delivery of services and tackle corruption. There is also the communal violence bill that is in public view and was trashed by secular activists who are worried about the powers it gives the police and administration. The devil is in the detail. While the bills are supposed to address relevant issues, loopholes are more likely to ensure that they do the opposite. This has always been the story, as governments grapple with pressure from the ground by passing legislation, and yet weaving in sections and clauses that help retain the status quo.

Team Anna is playing into the government’s hands with the childish belief that legislation alone can curtail corruption. Lawyer friends say more than sufficient laws exist to deal with corruption, from block level to PM, but are never invoked due to the kind of protection the system gives the corrupt. Parties when in power protect each other and themselves by keeping corruption cases on the back burner. Now and again, the CBI is made to squeak just so that the ‘other’ party or political leader behaves politically.

The Lokpal that promises now to be a huge, wieldy, gigantic authority set up at exorbitant cost will settle into the usual mix of complacency, inaction and even a bit of corruption on the side.

The fight should be for implementation on the ground. The communal violence bill will not prevent political leaders from organising pogroms, because the proof of their involvement will remain elusive as always. The food security bill is already in trouble with the government making it clear it does not have the funds to implement it in its entirety. Besides, the vehicle for implementation, the public distribution system is in shambles — partly because of confusion within the government about its utility in this age of globalisation — and needs a major overhaul to be effective and responsive.

Perhaps the one statement that Gandhi made cannot be challenged is that all is well between the party and the government, and that ‘whatever is eventually done is done together.’ This is absolutely true, although Gandhi’s well-wishers do try and distance her from the government’s decisions as soon as murmurs of criticism arise. In reality it is quite the opposite. For those who know the working of the Congress, no major decision is taken without being run through 10 Janpath. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the ministers know they cannot remain in position otherwise, and also without the ability to take the flak when the initial policy decision turns sour. A ‘but Soniaji knew of this’ approach is totally forbidden. So when Singh brought in FDI in retail he had 10 Janpath’s clearance, and when Pranab Mukherjee said it was put on hold, he too had the clearance.

In the Congress, management is euphemism for man-management, and at this Gandhi and her close advisors are adept. There are different kinds of ‘operations’ that keep the party president in command. To list just a few:
Operation ‘Cut to Size’: If Home Minister P Chidambaram, or any other mortal in the government is suddenly on a high, getting more applause beyond his quota, he has to be cut to size. A party leader (people like Digvijay Singh are ‘developed’ for these roles) attacks him, and stories are leaked to the media. Usually, by the end of the ‘treatment’ the man goes into quiet hibernation. But if he proves more cussed than bargained for, then as an extreme measure, Gandhi is brought into play with the ‘cold shoulder’ treatment. That is usually enough to reduce even the most arrogant in the cabinet to a whimpering mess.

Operation Rivalry: Rivalries are created with the distinction between the real and the imagined getting totally blurred through a well-calculated media offensive. So key figures are pitted against each other — like Pranab vs Chidambaram. Friends become rivals and the party is ridden with factionalism, keeping the top leadership secure. Everyone is pitted against the other, no one is sure of the other, with each Congress leader becoming an individual, dependent only on the party president and her close group of advisors (who do not mix with the rest of the party) for survival.

Operation Allies: First, key Congress leaders are put in position and given media managed titles. Pranab ‘The Troubleshooter’ Mukherjee, Digivijay ‘Loudmouth’ Singh, etc. These gentlemen then work with great precision to threaten allies, and then following the proverbial carrot and stick policy, cajole them into submission.

Suffice it to say while governance is certainly not the UPA government’s forte, not many can beat the ruling Congress party in man (that sometimes does stretch into event) management!

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