Fallen, into Thin Air

The Congress’ own in­ep­ti­tude and hubris hurt the party more than Naren­dra Modi did

The Economic Times - - The Edit Page - T K Arun

If Naren­dra Modi has vaulted to un­ex­pected heights, the Congress party has plum­meted to unimag­in­able depths. Its dec­i­ma­tion calls for an ex­pla­na­tion be­yond the in­ep­ti­tude of a Rahul Gandhi and his root­less men­tors.

The Congress’ vote share has fallen a steep 10 per­cent­age points to an all-time low of 19%, and for the first time, it has got fewer votes than the BJP. Even in 1998 and 1999, when its tally was sig­nif­i­cantly lower than the BJP’s num­ber of seats, the Congress had polled a higher share of the pop­u­lar vote. Now it stands re­duced to 44 seats, not mak­ing it to dou­ble dig­its even in a sin­gle state. How did this ab­sur­dity hap­pen?

Re­vul­sion against cor­rup­tion is a ready ex­pla­na­tion, and it has merit. Un­re­lent­ing price rise had alien­ated all town dwellers, un­doubt­edly. Rahul Gandhi’s fail­ure to im­press as a leader, leave alone mea­sure up to an ar­tic­u­late, art­ful and force­ful Naren­dra Modi, is an­other valid ex­pla­na­tion. The enor­mous cor­po­rate back­ing Modi got and the far more ex­pen­sive and sus­tained me­dia cam­paign he ran cer­tainly made a dif­fer­ence.

For­got the Feats…

Congress lead­ers’ fail­ure to ar­tic­u­late the govern­ment’s not-in­con­sid­er­able achieve­ments has now be­come a favourite whip­ping boy. The boy cer­tainly de­serves to be whipped. But the depth of Congress’ fall can­not be ex­plained by these alone. There are deeper struc­tural is­sues, to ig­nore which is to forgo any cor­rec­tive.

Let us look at some facts. The UPA govern­ment’s so­cial pol­icy was de­rived from a Na­tional Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil. Why does a po­lit­i­cal party need to out­source pol­i­cy­mak­ing cre­ativ­ity?

The UPA govern­ment put in place a rights-based de­vel­op­ment model. Ed­u­ca­tion, em­ploy­ment and food are now guar­an­teed. The right to in­for­ma­tion al­lows people to prise in­for­ma­tion out of the bu­reau­cracy, sniff out mal­go­v­er­nance and cor­rup­tion.

Like En­forc­ing New Laws…

The For­est Rights Act un­did the enor­mous in­jus­tice done to In­dia’s tribal people by colo­nial rule, which na­tion­alised forests and made tres­passers and crim­i­nals out of the tribes that lived in and off forests. Rahul Gandhi and other Congress lead­ers never tire of list­ing these be­nign gifts of the Congress.

But rights make sense only when they are en­forced. As a con­tract be­tween the state and the people, a right can be en­forced ei­ther through the courts or through demo­cratic mo­bil­i­sa­tion of em­pow­ered cit­i­zenry. The courts are bur­dened with cases that keep ac­cu­mu­lat­ing, in­stead of get­ting re­solved. So, any prospect of rights help­ing people via court-me­di­ated en­force­ment is re­mote.

That leaves pop­u­lar mo­bil­i­sa­tion to en­force rights. Have you heard of any party, leave alone the Congress, mo­bil­is­ing a sin­gle soul to en­force any rights? The Right to In­for­ma­tion Act has pro­duced sev­eral mar­tyrs, not one is from the Congress.

It is in­deed true that the record of the UPA govern­ment in terms of so­cial de­vel­op­ment and poverty re­moval has been noth­ing short of re­mark- able. Now, the sharp fall in in­fant mor­tal­ity rate (IMR) and ma­ter­nal mor­tal­ity rate (MMR) since 2004 — from 58 to 42 for IMR and from 280 to 178 for MMR — might be ex­plained more by the rise in in­comes and avail­abil­ity of good roads in ru­ral ar­eas that al­low a pa­tient to be moved fast to a nearby health­care fa­cil­ity than by spe­cific schemes meant for women’s and chil­dren’s wel­fare.

But such schemes were well-funded un­der the UPA, and ru­ral pros­per­ity, sus­tained rise in real ru­ral wages and large-scale ru­ral road-build­ing too were part of the UPA’s re­dis­tribu­tive pro­grammes. Yet, no Congress can­di­date has taken credit for any of these achieve­ments. But the ques­tion is, why not?

& Ev­ery­thing that Mat­tered

The share of the work­force trapped in low-pro­duc­tiv­ity farm work, a sink for un­der­em­ploy­ment, has dropped be­low 50% for the first time, thanks to the de­mand for labour from con­struc­tion and re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties such as brick­mak­ing. This is part of the rea­son for a rise in real wages across ru­ral In­dia, for which the em­ploy­ment guar­an­tee scheme set a floor. Yet, not a chirp on the sub­ject out of a sin­gle Congress can­di­date tour­ing ru­ral ar­eas, even as they coo over lit­tle urchins and woo castes and com­mu­ni­ties.

In 2011, sem­i­nars were held in Delhi to cel­e­brate the 20th an­niver­sary of In­dia’s eco­nomic re­forms. The Congress party did not join the cel­e­bra­tions, it did not claim own­er­ship of this trans­for­ma­tive par­a­digm shift in the na­tion’s de­vel­op­ment strat­egy. No Con­gress­man ex­plained why the party was in­dif­fer­ent, if not looked askance at the re­forms.

There is one and only one ex­pla­na­tion. Com­plete po­lit­i­cal bankruptcy. For the aver­age Con­gress­man, pol­i­tics has come to mean power, pa­tron­age and pelf. Me­di­at­ing the people’s con­cerns to the state and em­pow­er­ing and leading people to get the state to deliver on their en­ti­tle­ments just does not fig­ure in their scheme of things. Such un­der­stand­ing of pol­i­tics as power-broking for self-en­rich­ment is the root fail­ing of In­dian pol­i­tics. And no party ex­em­pli­fies this fail­ure as well as the Congress does.

This fail­ure ex­plains all the pre­vi­ously listed fail­ures. Thus, re­duc­tio ad ab­sur­dum.

SALAM

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.