POW­ER­LESS IN OF­FICE

India Today - - BYWORD -

Time heals, but, re­gret­tably, rather more so in proverbs than in pol­i­tics. Time is rarely on the side of gov­ern­ments in des­per­ate need of it. When the ship of state be­gins to leak, time, be­ing a ras­cal, punc­tures a few ex­tra holes in the hull. Any prag­matic cap­tain knows that a limp­ing ship must re­turn to port or sink. But po­lit­i­cal cap­tains tend to be coun­ter­in­tu­itive. Loath to sur­ren­der con­trol of the steer­ing wheel, they head straight for ice­bergs in the hope that some mir­a­cle will save the crew and pas­sen­gers.

The ev­i­dence against il­lu­sion is com­pelling. Do the math from the news float­ing in the air, and I am dis­count­ing the im­pact of Anna Hazare since con­ven­tional Delhi wis­dom dis­misses him as a has- been. I would not be too com­pla­cent about his silent im­pact, but let us leave this to one side. Ex­am­ine the ob­vi­ous.

If UPA had ei­ther opted for or been forced into a gen­eral elec­tion in, say, March this year, Congress would prob­a­bly have won 11 out of As­sam’s 14 Lok Sabha seats. Af­ter the mas­sacres and calami­ties of July, it will be lucky to win three. Time has stolen seats of an al­ready em­bat­tled party, not re­vived its spir­its. A train ac­ci­dent in Nel­lore re­minded the coun­try that it does not have a min­is­ter for rail­ways, at least one who sits in of­fice. The mas­sive black­out which was re­ported across the world, but was in­vis­i­ble to Congress spokesman Manish Te­wari, gen­er­ated wide­spread anger. Ev­ery story, from dis­parate cor­ners, is threaded by one fact: Gov­er­nance has col­lapsed.

Prime Min­is­ter Man­mo­han Singh can’t help look­ing help­less. He has a prob­lem he can­not quite dis­cuss in pub­lic but does surely ad­mit in the pri­vacy of his draw­ing room: The Congress has run out of tal­ent. He did not pro­mote power min­is­ter Sushilku­mar Shinde to the home min­istry on the very day of the black­out be­cause he has some macabre sense of hu­mour. He did so be­cause he has no other op­tion. Shinde is per­haps the only Cab­i­net min­is­ter left with both the ex­pe­ri­ence and ma­tu­rity to glide calmly into this of­fice. His has been a quiet but re­mark­able jour­ney from con­sta­ble to the man in ex­ec­u­tive charge of In­dia’s po­lice forces. Some of the names cir­cu­lat­ing in Delhi for fi­nance and home be­fore Chi­dambaram and Shinde were given the jobs, are too em­bar­rass­ing to re­peat. There was a time when there were enough Congress stal­warts to fill two Cab­i­nets. But Congress has al­most sys­tem­at­i­cally de­graded its ranks to the point where even its chief min­is­ters do not quite mea­sure up to a home min­istry’s needs. They could have looked to­wards Sharad Pawar, of course; but Congress cul­ture for­bids any­thing but sec­ond class jobs to those who keep it in of­fice.

Congress did have one ex­cel­lent op­tion. Power would have been the per­fect port­fo­lio for Rahul Gandhi. The fail­ure of his pre­de­ces­sors was pre­cisely the kind of space for him to dis­play ad­min­is­tra­tive met­tle, and set up his claim for lead­er­ship of the coun­try. Some­one has per­suaded Rahul Gandhi that he can be­come Prime Min­is­ter of In­dia if he dips his toe in the wa­ter now and then, in front of ex­ult­ing tele­vi­sion cam­eras, with­out ac­tu­ally go­ing through the bother of learn­ing how to swim.

It is not easy to gov­ern In­dia, or even broad parts of it. Young Akhilesh Ya­dav is dis­cov­er­ing that chief min­is­ter­ship re­quires some­thing more than a broad smile af­ter be­ing sworn in. The price of poor ad­min­is­tra­tion is steep, and ex­tracted quickly. Rarely has any stock plum­meted as fast as that of Akhilesh Ya­dav in Ut­tar Pradesh. He has been in of­fice for only some 20 weeks, so he has a chance to re­cover, but that will not be easy. You have to rule with both hands, think upon your feet; and work around the clock. Gov­er­nance is about manag­ing peo­ple, and the first thing they want is un­di­vided at­ten­tion. Then they want de­ci­sions, par­tic­u­larly those that af­fect life and death, such as se­cu­rity dur­ing com­mu­nal ten­sion.

The last phase of the UPA Gov­ern­ment will be­gin when the Prime Min­is­ter shifts from help­less to hope­less. He has not quite made the tran­si­tion, since he thinks there is some hope left in his Pak­istan visit in late Novem­ber. Asif Zar­dari used Ajmer Sharif as a cloak; re­li­gion is Dr Singh’s ex­cuse as well. Sen­ti­ment is no bad thing, but cos­met­ics do not heal wounds. They are ephemeral. The bub­bles that swarmed across front pages when Dr Singh be­came fi­nance min­is­ter for a month have evap­o­rated. If any an­i­mal spir­its were re­leased, they are not yet vis­i­ble.

When Dr Singh re­turns from Pak­istan, he will have a year of real time left, if he is al­lowed to com­plete his full term. Six months are al­ways hostage to a gen­eral elec­tion. One won­ders what UPA can achieve in one year that was be­yond its ca­pac­ity in the pre­vi­ous four.

Some­one has per­suaded Rahul Gandhi that he can be­come Prime Min­is­ter of In­dia if he dips his toe in the wa­ter now and then, in front of ex­ult­ing tele­vi­sion cam­eras, with­out ac­tu­ally go­ing through the bother

of learn­ing how to swim.

SAU­RABH SINGH/ www. in­di­a­to­day­im­ages. com

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