The relentless build-up of the Congress party’s death wish is an astonishing phenomenon to watch. There isn’t the slightest sign of recognising the cancer that is destroying it from within—absolute control by a dynastic family that no longer commands respect, not even from large chunks of Congressmen. The party that could once get a lamp post elected on its ticket has power today in just eight states, seven of them too minor to count on the national stage. Karnataka is the only major state the Congress controls—and Congress leaders in the state are doing everything possible to ensure defeat in the next election.
The so-called High Command has lost its omnipotence as Kerala’s last chief minister, Oommen Chandy, proved by defying it. With several of his ministers neck-deep in corruption, he rejected the High Command’s suggestions aimed at saving the situation. Pressed to drop at least one minister, Chandy threatened to boycott the election whereupon the High Command humbly retreated. In the event, Chandy led the Congress to its most humiliating defeat in history. Unless he and his generation retire and a line of young leaders take over, the Congress will lose again in Kerala—provided of course that the present Communist-led alliance does not help the Congress by committing serious blunders.
The suicidal streak in the Karnataka Congress is just as strong. The latest subterfuge that has alienated the government from the people involves plans for a steel flyover in a city that has been turned into a traffic nightmare by a succession of greedy politician planners. The initial plans saw the flyover ending at the Hebbal intersection, a notorious mess. When it was pointed out that the bigger bottleneck was just after the Hebbal junction, the flyover blueprint was hastily extended to include that hell-spot as well. A classic case of ad-hocism and non-application of mind.
The steel flyover idea has triggered widespread public opposition because of its obvious unsoundness. A central segment of Bangalore, the Chalukya Circle, will be reduced to a mess of underpasses and crisscrossing steel overbridges. Several hundred trees will be cut while the Golf Club and heritage structures will be broken up. On top of it all, the government has been secretive about the details. No cost breakdown is provided, information under RTI is denied. There will be a toll gate, making Bangalore the only city where a resident will have to pay two tolls to reach the airport. The whole scheme is bad economically, bad politically, bad aesthetically and bad ethically. The only sensible thing that can be done with it is to scrap it altogether.
Bangaloreans saw this and turned out in their thousands to form a human chain of protest one Sunday. Any government claiming to represent the people would at least have shown a semblance of courtesy before public opinion so dramatically expressed. But Chief Minister Siddaramaiah reflected Congress haughtiness when he told the protesting public, the very next day, that the steel flyover plan would proceed as planned.
Why such open adamance? Two explanations gained currency. First, that Karnataka’s Congressmen do not expect to be elected next time around and are therefore in a hurry to make hay while the sun shines. Secondly, for the Congress and the High Command, Karnataka is the one and only ATM available and elections are imminent in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.
The political class being what it is, both explanations are convincing. Besides, the High Command cannot afford to be all that high these days. The dynastic hold is proving counter-productive at every turn. In UP, where it had no chance anyway, it has received a body blow with the defection of Rita Bahuguna, considered close to Sonia Gandhi and her son.
The only state where the future holds some sort of hope for the party is Rajasthan. If the High Command tries to find out why, it will see that the leadership of the party in the state has gone to Sachin Pilot, a younger leader who has vision and competence. The elders are sulking. C P Joshi, reputed to be a confidant of Rahul Gandhi, skipped a dinner organised by ex-chief minister Ashok Gehlot. The two together skipped Rahul’s rally in Delhi on October 6.
If all the elders go into a similar sullen withdrawal in all other states too and the young and the able take over the party’s reins, the Congress may see another sunrise. But that won’t happen. Why? Ask the unseeing, immovable,