By Amulya Ganguli
The absence of Congress MLAs from the Maharashtra assembly during a crucial floor test because they were said to be stuck in traffic would have been hilarious if it didn’t carry a sad tale about the party.
For a start, it is odd that as many as 11 legislators were caught in a traffic bottleneck. Were they travelling together or were they making their way singly or in twos and threes from different parts of the town? Whatever their routes or travelling plans, their failure to turn up at the right time for a vote looks fishy. Not surprisingly, it has been seen as a prelude to leaving the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) or a split in the party with a section gravitating towards the BJP.
The strange absenteeism is yet another sign why the 137-year-old party is floundering in the dark. It isn’t only age that is making it senile, the party also appears to have lost interest in political events, another sign of dementia.
The lack of focus is evident from the casual manner in which it conducts its business. One example of this cursory approach was the way in which the Congress relinquished its hold on Punjab even after winning a handsome victory five years ago under Amarinder Singh.
Yet, as this year’s elections approached, the Congress did all it could to get rid of Singh at the behest of a maverick who is now cooling his heels in jail. It was a reckless move for which the Congress has paid the price of handing over the state to the Aam Admi Party. This mistake could have been avoided if the “inexperienced”, as Singh ruefully said, brother-and-sister duo of Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra had shown greater political sense.
The latest misstep in Maharashtra shows a similar tendency to act in a careless manner. Instead of emphasizing a disinterest in the MVA’s survival by playing hooky, the Congress should have given the impression that it is as interested as the NCP’s Sharad Pawar in ensuring the Uddhav Thackeray’s political longevity.
Such tactics are all the more necessary at a time when the Shiv Sena rebels are on tenterhooks about their future as they cannot be sure about the BJP’s game. Is the BJP giving them a long rope? How will the Marathi manoos react when they see the Sena of Eknath Shinde playing second fiddle to Big Brother? It was to forestall such a possibility that Thackeray had broken away from the BJP and formed an alliance with the NCP and Congress despite their ideological differences.
It is now up to the NCP and the Congress to stay with Thackeray and ensure the MVA’s continuance as a viable alliance. But by throwing a spanner in the works, the Congress must have given considerable pleasure to the BJP. Yet, it has gained nothing for itself except confirming the suspicion that the party cannot be taken seriously.
The reason why the Congress appears lost is obvious – inept leadership. The BJP, too, passed through a similar phase when it was called “kati patang” (floating kite) by a former member, Arun Shourie. But, luckily for the party, it found someone who could not only provide leadership, but also an inspiring one. As vice-president Venkaiah Naidu said, Narendra Modi is God’s gift to India.
There is little doubt that the BJP has benefitted greatly from the divine bequest. It has also gained from the Congress’s failure to find anyone who can take the party forward. Some of the other opposition parties are slightly better placed in the sense that they have credible leaders – Sharad Pawar, Mamata Banerjee, M.K. Stalin, Arvind Kejriwal – but they are all local chieftains. As such, their chances of challenging the BJP at the national level are minimal.
Even if there are occasional attempts by some of them to come together and unitedly take on the BJP, there are far too many differences between them, including ego hassles, for them to work together. The Congress could have been the glue, but it has been going downhill ever since Rajiv Gandhi’s death.
As of now, therefore, the future looks bleak for the opposition parties. Despite the BJP’s failures on the economic front, it has managed to keep its flag flying with effective tactical manoeuvres based on stoking Hindu nationalism, demonising the Muslims and depending on welfare programmes aimed at the lower middle class. If, in addition, the Congress commits blunders like the one in Maharashtra, the BJP will seriously believe in God’s benediction. (IPA Service)