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The Congress Party has failed to communicate its achievements

The curious thing about UPA 2’s downward spiral is that it has been caused not by acts of commission (like the implementation of wrong policies), but by acts of omission, writes Anil Dharker.

ht view Updated: Apr 11, 2014 02:42 IST
Anil Dharker

LK Advani’s motives are obvious, but he did hit things on the head when he said that if the BJP wins the election, it will be due to the “UPA duo”. “I have been telling colleagues that we should be grateful to the UPA duo for working systematically and steadfastly to ensure that in 2014, once again a BJP-led government comes into power,” Advani wrote in a recent blog.

He was, of course, referring to Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh.

Advani went on to say, “No earlier government has presided over so many scams and scandals as this government. Corruption has become the dominant characteristic of this government, and people are eagerly looking forward to throw it out at the earliest.”

The absence of Narendra Modi’s name anywhere tells us what the senior (and sidelined) BJP leader is clearly implying, that anyone leading the BJP (especially Advani) could have swept the NDA into power.

Can anyone dispute that? However, the curious thing about UPA 2’s downward spiral is that it has been caused not by acts of commission (like the implementation of wrong policies), but by acts of omission (the prime minister turning a blind eye while his coalition partners looted the treasury, seeming policy paralyses on the economic front, etc).

To this we must add acts of omission of a singular kind: A complete inability to communicate with people at any and every level.

In this, the ‘UPA duo’ (to use Advani’s phrase) must be unique in world politics. A politician’s gift of the gab is a given; he or she moves from the ranks of social worker or lawyer or minor political functionary and becomes a political force by being able to speak on any subject, anywhere and on any occasion.

All he needs is a mike and an audience. Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, on the other hand, when confronted with an audience, react like deer caught in a car’s headlights. It’s taken Gandhi over a decade to put some animation in the speeches she still reads; as for Singh, he makes a mannequin look like a party animal.

At the release of the Congress’ election manifesto, the prime minister essayed a bit of humour in one of his responses to the media: The smile, however, was on Sonia Gandhi’s face; his own countenance was expressionless.

This singular inability to speak — ‘communicate’ is too grand a word in the face of such reticence — has meant that the politician’s hand maiden, the tom-tomming of your achievements, has been locked up out of sight. Rahul Gandhi has tried to overcome this handicap by raising the emotional pitch of his speeches, but his efforts have been too little, too late.

Things could have been different if the Congress vice-president had come out of his Hamletesque dithering a year earlier.

What could he have said? To start with, he could have countered the impression of policy inaction by talking about and reiterating what the government did achieve over the years.

The Right to Information Act has been a transformative piece of legislation and its use by activists has resulted in an accountability which was lacking in our public life.

The MGNREGS, breathtaking in its scale, has benefited a huge number of the rural poor. Recent surveys by teams from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Bihar, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh have shown that the leakages, which were endemic in the initial phases of the scheme, have been plugged to a great extent by the use of biometric identity cards, which preceded Aadhaar cards.

And what about Aadhaar itself? Has anything on this scale ever been attempted anywhere before? The Supreme Court may have put a spoke in the wheel by saying the cards are not mandatory, yet the scheme’s beneficial effects will be permanent and far-reaching.

This should be obvious to all of us, but is it? If it isn’t, isn’t this because of the Congress’ inability to drum the message into our heads? You can say the same of the Direct Benefit Transfer scheme, which will cut out the corrupt middleman. Or the Lokpal Bill, which the party may have been a late convert to, but did finally ram through Parliament.

These initiatives needed to be publicised all over the country, especially to rural areas and to the urban poor, but so abysmal are the Congress’ communication skills that the party has not even been able to reach out to the much smaller community of businessmen and industrialists.

Which party brought in FDI in retail? Who tried to liberalise the insurance sector? Who brought in an empowered committee to fast track projects, and in P Chidambaram’s last budget, announced massive investments which should be mouth-watering for any businessman? Yet, what is the impression in these circles? That Narendra Modi and the BJP are industry-friendly.

There are many more acts of omission which space constraints do not permit to be mentioned here.

Just one example will do. Everyone will agree that the last telecom auction was conducted in a fair and transparent manner.

Apart from that, what did the numbers show? That the computation of losses in ‘the 2G scam’ by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, Vinod Rai, was wildly off the mark. Rai’s fanciful and irresponsible figures were the primary reason why the extent of the scam was grossly inflated. Why did Congress spokesmen not attack the CAG as they should have?

The biggest act of omission, of course, is to have let Narendra Modi go unchallenged in every conceivable area. It’s been left to Arvind Kejriwal to pick holes in the so-called Gujarat development model. Did the Congress need AAP to do its work?

Anil Dharker is a Mumbai-based writer. The views expressed by the author are personal.