Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s re-appointment as the Chairperson of the National Advisory Council (NAC) is a clear signal from the party of its overall assertion over the government. It is also, in a way, an admission by the party that the government needed better direction to implement the party agenda that was in tune with the aam aadmi. By institutionalising her position as NAC supremo, the party expects ministers to be more committed in their approach. The Congress is clear — its focus remains on social causes.
The announcement was made even before information about Ms Gandhi’s appointment had been formally conveyed to the UPA allies. While there had been widespread speculation about her taking over as the NAC Chairperson for sometime now, the announcement assumes significance in view of reports that several ministers were busy pursuing their individual, rather than the party’s, agenda. The move is likely to curb the activities of those ministers who did not prioritise the party’s interests. This will also spell out in definite terms that, apart from the Prime Minister, even the party is watching their performance closely.
The start of the UPA-II government has not been impressive. The party and its supporters have been worried that if this perception is allowed to persist, it may prove to be very costly. During the first edition, the support from the Left parties had also contributed to ensuring that the government’s agenda remained more focused on the downtrodden sections. But after the formation of the new government in May last year, there has been a perception in many quarters that the UPA-II had been unable to control rising prices and that the statements and actions of some ministers were diluting the aam aadmi agenda of the Congress. In the process, policies were tilting towards the corporate world. In a few matters, the country’s interests seemed to have been undermined.
Even though the equation between the PM and the Congress president remains unchanged, Ms Gandhi — as the party president — has to look at its interests beyond the present government. In other words, she also has to bring the government around to implementing its promises so that the Congress continues to be a potent force even beyond 2014. The party has to look towards the future.
The possible reason for her looking ahead is that she has always been a visionary. She had given a call to secular and like-minded parties during the Congress’s Shimla conclave in August 2003 to come together to defeat the communal forces led by the BJP. Now she perhaps feels that if the government does not implement the party’s agenda with commitment, the Congress she leaves to Generation Next might have a credibility problem.
It is natural for a forward-thinking person to be worried about this. Had the BJP implemented its Ram mandir agenda during its six-and-a-half years in power, it may have continued to be in the government. Ms Gandhi is seized of the fact that if the Congress fails to fulfil its promises and allows an extraneous agenda to be implemented, the repercussions for the party may be wide-ranging.
Critics may question her appointment on the ground that as the Congress president she could accomplish whatever she wanted; so where was the need to head the NAC? It is true that she is an extremely powerful person but, in politics, occasions arise when there is need to institutionalise advice as also to assert the party’s position without hesitation.
Ms Gandhi is looking at the future and at the aspirations of Generation Next. She is committed to the aam aadmi agenda and wants to perhaps ensure that the government remains on course. Between us.