360° Analysis

Sonia Gandhi – 15 Years of Going Nowhere


April 02, 2013 22:20 EDT

Sonia Gandhi’s completion of fifteen years as president of the Congress party has been met with much fanfare in the party. Archana Dalmia’s eulogy, “Sonia Gandhi: Working the Miracle” is a case in point.

Apologists of the diarchy in governance with Sonia as the chairman of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have waxed eloquent about the ‘understanding’ between them which has been a necessity arising out of the compulsions of coalition politics.

The ‘understanding’ has however only facilitated the perpetuation of the de jure rule of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty over the country. Manmohan Singh has been increasingly viewed as a proxy serving as a regent till the eventual coronation of Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the dynasty. For a party which has sycophancy of the dynasty embedded in its DNA, any other leader apart from the dynasty has been perceived as a usurper.

Narsimha Rao, was brought in from semi-retirement to serve as Prime minister after the tragic assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. He was perceived as a leader who would serve out his time till Sonia; Rajiv’s widow would be ready for public life. But a wily politician, Rao gradually initiated the process of sidelining the dynasty even while paying lip service to the virtues of the dynasty.

After the electoral debacle in 1996, Rao was forced into political oblivion, notwithstanding the fact that he opened the Indian economy to globalization and resuscitated it from bankruptcy. Members of the dynasty have been immortalized for lesser achievements whereas Rao has been consigned to the dustbins of the party’s history. As with the monarchies of yore, the dynasty had banished the usurper to obscurity.

Manmohan, who incidentally, served as Narsimha Rao’s Finance Minister, has however made no such attempts to govern. He has developed silence as a policy measure and has been content to play second fiddle to Sonia. Even government advertisements, brought out at public expense have portrayed Manmohan as a junior partner to Sonia.

The denigration of the position of Prime Minister with Manmohan wielding no power has resulted in egregious governance. Ministers and party functionaries have routinely beseeched Rahul to take over the reign of the country. Digvijaya Singh, a senior party functionary who is known to have the ears of the dynasty, has called upon Rahul “not to nominate anybody as the Prime Minister” after the 2014 elections and “take the call himself.” He has also accepted that the “two power centre” model “has not worked well.”

Another senior leader Shashi Tharoor claimed that in the event of Congress gaining power in 2014, “the President and Vice President of the party would be the natural choice as Prime Minister.”

Sonia, for all her ‘understanding’ has never publicly defended Manmohan against such snide attacks. In a party where the dynasty’s wish is the follower’s command, it is not hard to decipher a pattern behind such statements.

Evidently, the regent has outlived his utility and has become dispensable for the dynasty. Sonia is now attempting to distance the dynasty from the potentially adverse fallouts of a slew of financial scams and corruption scandals which have engulfed Manmohan’s UPA coalition government.

The coalition has itself been reduced to a minority with the major partners, the Trinamool Congress and DMK having pulled out of the government. Farcically, the government has been able to manage the numbers in Parliament by obtaining ‘outside’ support from two parties whose animosity towards each other is legendary.

The credit for managing the numbers for UPA by coalescing disparate political parties lies with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Contrary to the myth perpetuated by Sonia Loyalists who adulate her for managing the coalition, it has been the CBI which has arm twisted the Samajwadi party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj party (BSP) into bailing out the beleaguered UPA during crisis. With corruption cases pending against both Mulayam Singh Yadav, leader of SP and Mayawati, the prima donna of the BSP, the parties have been forced to acquiesce.   

Small wonder political opponents derogatorily refer to CBI as Congress Bureau of Investigation. It is a rapacious lust for power which has ensured that instruments of governance have been subjugated to serve the party in power, irrespective of the damage it inflicts on governance.

Sonia who has wielded unbridled power without accountability is also credited with the establishment of non constitutional bodies like the National Advisory Council (NAC). The NAC which is touted as an interface between the government and the civil society has Sonia as chairperson and other handpicked experts as its members.

Having transgressed into the domain of policy formulation which is the sole prerogative of the cabinet in a functional democracy, the NAC is referred to as a ‘super cabinet.’ The NAC has ensured the implementation of schemes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) which tacitly encourage inactivity amongst rural workers in exchange for political support for the Congress during elections. The impact of such profligacy on the fiscal deficit has been disastrous.

Ironically, while propping up non constitutional bodies like the NAC, the Congress has been guilty of subverting the constitutionally mandated bodies like the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and the Elections Commission (EC).

The Congress has been at war with the CAG ever since the government auditors exposed the humungous scams in the allotment of the 2G spectrum, the Commonwealth Games construction and allotment of coal blocks.

Stung by the furore arising out of the US$ 33bn loss to public exchequer by the capricious allotment of 2G spectrum, the Congress party has been publicly deprecating Vinod Rai, the CAG. The methodology adopted by the CAG to arrive at the figure representing the loss was termed “zero loss” and ‘presumptive’ in nature by senior Congress minister Kapil Sibal.

Notwithstanding the fact that the CAG’s stand has been vindicated in the judgment of the Supreme Court which cancelled the spectrum allotments, terming it as “unconstitutional and arbitrary.” In a scathing observation the court castigated the government for "virtually gifting away important national asset.”

But Congress leaders have refused to desist from their vituperations against the CAG. Innuendoes have been raised against the CAG for having a “political agenda.” The government has advised the CAG “not to exceed its mandate.”

Interestingly, Sonia Gandhi has maintained a studied silence regarding the avalanche of scams which are a direct consequence of the diarchy established for the convenience of the dynasty. Nor has any attempt been made to rein in her ministers from leveling scurrilous allegations against a constitutional body.

The CAG is not the only institution facing a subversion of its constitutionally mandated powers. In a submission before the Supreme Court, the UPA government has challenged the powers of the Election Commission (EC) to disqualify a candidate for falsifying his poll expenditure accounts.

In the counter affidavit the government has asserted that the EC’s power “arises only in the event of failure to lodge an account of expenses and not for any other reason.” Implicitly, the commission cannot disqualify a candidate for fallacious declarations of accounts.

In India, preposterous poll expenditure discourages an ordinary person from contesting for public office thereby defeating the principles of democracy. The government’s effort to curtail the EC’s power is bound to have a dangerous impact on the way elections are regulated in the country.

Even the Supreme Court (SC) has been advised by the government “not to cross its Lakshman Rekha (jurisdiction),” ignoring the fact that judicial autonomy is the bulwark of a democracy.

Evidently, a party which sings paeans for a non constitutional body like the NAC spares no effort to decimate the constitutionally mandated autonomy of the CAG, EC and the SC. The demise of governance has been a natural corollary.

A rational analysis would indicate that governance has not been the only casualty of Sonia’s ascent in politics. Although sycophants try to convince the people otherwise, the Congress party has organizationally withered under her leadership.

The strength of party is assessed by the calibre of its second rung leadership. Unfortunately, a culture of sycophancy and a lack of inner party democracy have resulted in the cupboard of leadership in the party being bare. The youth leadership which the party proudly projects belongs to the various dynasties owing greater allegiance to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. None of these ‘youth’ leaders have a pan India appeal essential for acceptance at the national level. Not a single leader of any significance apart from scions of these dynasties has been permitted to flourish in the party during Sonia’s reign.

Despite all the proclamations of democracy, Sonia has been ‘unanimously’ elected as president of the party for 15 years. Rahul’s elevation as the vice president of the party inspite of resounding electoral debacles is a manifestation of the ipso facto claim of the dynasty over the party leadership.  

Increasing unemployment, inflation, financial scams tumbling out like skeletons in the cupboard; India is melancholic. The country requires visionaries and leaders, not miracle makers. Miracle is the domain of charlatans!  

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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