Three major political developments should serve as a wake-up call for the Congress leadership before the monsoon session of Parliament. The party that is set to elect Sonia Gandhi as its president for yet another term in a fortnight’s time has a lot to worry about the way things are at present.
Sharad Pawar’s reported desire to shed some of his portfolios after assuming the International Cricket Council (ICC) chief’s office has to be viewed with caution. Pawar is an astute politician and even if he has been elected to head cricket’s supreme body, politics remains his first love. It will be naïve to interpret Pawar’s offer as an expression of his preference for cricket over politics. He is one of the most experienced leaders in this government and can surely carry the burden of many ministries as well as the game.
Therefore, Pawar’s reported action seems to have many dimensions to it. First, he has tried to distance himself from the charge of being responsible for the rising prices, which he perhaps believes are the result of the government’s policies. He probably made the offer to relinquish charge of some ministries since he would want the prime minister to appoint someone who could carry out his (PM’s) policies more effectively. The unstated point is that the current policy is not in sync with his thinking.
Second, by making this offer, Pawar has tried to shake the Congress leadership out of its status quo mentality. Any attempt to reshuffle the ministry is bound to have huge ramifications for the allies and could lead to instability in the government. Pawar can perhaps force the top leadership to also accommodate his daughter. Simultaneously, while stating his support to the UPA government at the Centre, he has started exploring possibilities of forging alliance with other secular parties in different states. The objective is to strengthen his base in states other than Maharashtra at the expense of the Congress.
The second major political development is Kamal Nath’s attack on the Planning Commission and its supremo Montek Singh Ahluwalia. By lashing out at the Planning Commission, Kamal Nath has attacked Ahluwalia’s patron, Manmohan Singh. But in real political terms, the minister has sent a signal to the Congress president that the government needs to exercise greater control over policy-making. The message is significant since the party’s political stake is far greater than that of the prime minister.
Third, the success of the all-India bandh called by the combined Opposition on the issue of the price rise is something which can’t be dismissed. The violence on the bandh day is condemnable but the issue touched a chord everywhere. Moroever, the weaknesses in the Congress organisation’s structure came to the fore since at no place were party volunteers able to persuade shopkeepers to keep their establishments open. This was very pronounced in Congress-ruled states like Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. The party needs to have people with more political muscle to be in charge of states.
The government must review its handling of crucial issues. So far, the Union Cabinet has not held a single meeting to solely discuss the price rise. Similarly on Maoism and other internal security matters, many Cabinet ministers learn of crucial decisions from the media. They somehow don’t seem to be in the loop in a government that is meant to be run through collective responsibility. All this must change. Major decisions should be more broad-based and inclusive. This will reflect greater wisdom than a group of ministers, Cabinet committees on various subjects or the core group of the party. The government and party will then be more in sync with the aam aadmi. Between us.