Monday, January 13, 2014

In Mumbai, Himachal and Karnataka, Rahul is subverted by his own people. What's up?

Believe it or not, Rahul Gandhi has begun to lose ground in the Congress Party. Till very recently a mere gesture from him would send shivers down the spine of senior leaders. A public disapproval was enough for the Government to reverse its stand on disqualifying tainted MPs. The hold of the dynasty was so total that it was unthinkable for a Congressman to go against its wishes in word or deed. Implicit loyalty to the family was the first requirement for advancement in the party.

Outwardly that remains a fact of Congress life. But inwardly winds of change seem to be blowing in the inner chambers of the party. Experienced old hands appear to have devised ways to neutralise the inexperienced young scion of the dynasty. The newest twists and turns in the party bear this out as we can see in Mumbai, Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka.

For quite some time the public has known details of the Adarsh Housing scam in Mumbai, including the misuse of authority by a succession of Congress chief ministers. An inquiry commission found substance in the charges against several political leaders and civil servants. Yet the state Government had the gumption to reject the report. Outraged public opinion forced knight-errant Rahul Gandhi to stage another of his interventions and rubbish the Government's decision. Promptly the Government said it would change its position.

It did announce a change, but not as happened with the ordinance on tainted MPs wich was withdrawn. This time the Government stuck to its earlier position on the accused political leaders and declined to take any action. The only concession to the knight-errant was a recommendation to proceed against the bureaucrats. A cure worse than the disease. Unseen hands pulled unseen strings again when the High Command asked Himachal Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh to explain charges of corruption against him. Suddenly reversing gear, the High Command started protecting the accused.

Cutting Rahul Gandhi to size was most noticeable in Karnataka. The Congress had recognised that it won the last Assembly elections only because the BJP Government's freewheeling corruption had spread disgust among the voters. This had led Rahul Gandhi to give two orders to the state Congress: That the chief ministership should go to the relatively clean Siddaramaiah and that tainted leaders should not be appointed ministers. According to Congress insiders, Rahul specifically mentioned that Shiva Kumar and Roshan Baig be kept out because they were not only tainted but seemed proud of it. Both orders were carried out and it gave the Congress Government a promising start.

But suddenly last week the two men Rahul considered harmful to the party were sworn in as cabinet ministers. Some Congress leaders expressed dismay while social workers, writers and respected elders publicly gave vent to their shock. The point was that Rahul Gandhi's order was countermanded by manipulation experts within the party. It was open secret among Congressmen in Karnataka that veterans like Digvijay Singh and Ghulam Nabi Azad could swing things their way even while appearing to promote the dynasty.

By elevating discredited operators to cabinet rank, the Congress not only lost its advantage with Karnataka voters, but made it easy for the BJP to elevate its dishonoured leaders. Yeddyurappa's return will destroy the BJP's right to attack others on corruption. But it will do less harm to the BJP than Shiva Kumar - Roshan Baig's rise will do to the Congress. In the next round of elections it will be a Congress-BJP fight, Deve Gowda's Janata Dal (S) having made itself irrelevant. Yeddyurappa, having suffered jail term and loss of power, may get support from his forgiving community. That will prevent a split in the anti-Congress vote which in turn could translate into three or four seats, to the delight of the BJP. The image of Shiva Kumar - Roshan Baig is too sordid to yield any such dividend to the Congress. That of course is of no concern to Congressmen who put personal interest above the party's. Those whom God wants to destroy, He first turns into politicians.