Congress leader Kapil Sibal recently said at his book launch that the UPA II was done in by canards spread by political rivals. He pointed to the Comptroller and Auditor General Vinod Rai’s presumptive loss theory on 2G and how a narrative against the Manmohan Singh Government was countered by only “one or two people” who spoke up for the Government.
On the face of it, Sibal’s remarks may look like an attack on the CAG and the Opposition. However, he was actually pointing fingers at senior leaders of the Congress who failed to defend the Manmohan Singh Government. The ‘one or two’ he talks about is himself and P Chidambaram.
So the question is, why did not veteran leaders of the Congress who fought and won several perception battles over several decades remain silent, as Sibal correctly has said? Before answering the question, one would like to know why Manmohan Singh did not defend himself.
Did it make sense for Singh to just say ‘history would judge him less harshly’ and quietly step down as PM, after occupying the most-coveted post in India for 10 years? Did he not owe it to his party to keep it fighting fit for giving him the opportunity to serve the nation as its highest executive for ten years? If he could be obstinate about signing the nuclear deal even at the cost of jeopardising his government and if he could tell Advani a thing or two about national security and patriotism a couple of times, why did he take refuge in ‘coalition compulsions’ when he was cornered about the telecom scandal? What stopped him from taking on the CAG for quoting an impossible figure of Rs 1.76 lakh? Why did he not ask his ministers to highlight that non-auction of 2G had benefitted the common people and facilitated businesses and even the NDA Government had previously not auctioned the airwaves?
I am not sure if any media organisation has put out the difference in the figures between what Rai quoted and what the government received after auctioning the 2G spectrum. The figure the media cleverly quoted has been what the auction fetched — Rs 61,162 crore. How would you react if I told you that Rai had got his 1.76 lakh crore wrong by Rs 1.15 lakh crore? Despite being an economist, Singh never challenged Rai’s presumption. Even after the auction he did not speak.
When the Congress formed a government in 2004, party stakeholders expected Sonia Gandhi to become PM. Though taken by surprise, when she anointed Singh, Congress veterans tried to adapt to the new reality. Common people may find discussing issues with Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh very easy. However, for Congress veterans, it was very awkward to discuss politics with either. This is because politics is not about deciding for or against something in a simple manner.
A seasoned politician would see several dimensions to each issue which looks like a simple matter to a normal person. Gandhi’s claim to the political leadership was that she was the widow of a political dynast and Manmohan Singh, an economist, was her nominee. Neither could master the craft that Congress veterans practised. Worse, neither wanted to understand what the veterans were up to.
For senior Congress leaders, it was like playing Bridge with school children. Or better put, Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi were people who wanted to have omelette without breaking eggs. They realised soon enough that politics was all about deal making, checkmating and making compromises but when the Congress veterans met the two and tried to discuss an issue, the two behaved like uninvolved people and made sure that they never got into the nitty gritty of the game. They saw politics as ‘dirty’ and left the job to the veterans.
This was an awkward game for the Congress seniors such as Arjun Singh, Pranab Mukherjee, Ahmed Patel, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Digvijaya Singh et al. People are in politics to dirty their hands and make gains for themselves and their parties at the cost of rivals. But here they were painted as tainted and left to cut deals for two people who behaved like they did not approve of any of it. The fact is that Singh could remain in power only because the Congress veterans were doing the deals. (I will narrate specific examples of some real deals in another column soon).
When it became clear that this was a game where someone did all the hard work, while someone else enjoyed the fruits of the labour, these leaders started withdrawing from action, one by one. Media often use the word ‘Congress loyalist’, misleading the public to believe that they are like soldiers who would die for the leader and the party. A loyalist in politics is someone who sticks with the leader as long as one has a stake and sees a future for oneself.
Arjun Singh was the first to be disillusioned. He had been a ‘Gandhi loyalist’ since the days when Kesri was ousted from the Congress presidentship and Sonia Gandhi was asked to lead the party. He had hoped, even after Manmohan Singh became PM, that Sonia Gandhi would soon give him the post. When he realised that his loyalty was not paying dividends, he lost interest in protecting the party and the Gandhis from rivals. The same was the story with Pranab Mukherjee. It is no longer a secret that Mukherjee had hoped that he would be asked to succeed Manmohan Singh when UPA II formed the Government. It was when he realised that his hard work for the government and party was of little benefit to him that he became the first President to occupy the post by self-canvassing.
The Congress may have lost power but the story of disillusionment continues. Digvijaya Singh who defended the Congress and its leaders against every attack by rivals is hardly heard or seen these days. The power shift in the Gandhi family has happened but even Rahul Gandhi fails to understand party loyalty is not similar to what royalty receives from valorous noblemen.
Out governments are now busy freeing the cow from its slaughterers and finding homes for them. The only problem is that the number of train engines that are damaged due to cows found on the rail tracks have almost quadrupled since last year. While over 350 odd cases were reported in 2017, lynch mobs and their facilitators have ensured that there have been more than 1,200 cases of stray cows killed on tracks this year. The railways maintenance cost is not yet available.
(Published on 10th September 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 37)