Monday, March 3, 2014

Opportunists know which ships to desert, and which to enter for available crumps

There are two theories about rats leaving a sinking ship. One is that they have some mystic extrasensory power to anticipate impending disaster. The other is that, being burrowing creatures, they dwell in the bilge, the lowest reaches of a ship's innards; so they are the first to see leaking water and scurry up to presumed safety before all others.

Just as rats jumping ship is the surest indication that the ship is doomed, politicians leaving a party is a clear signal that the party is in trouble. Not that we need any such signal to know that the Congress Party is sinking. Nevertheless, there is a tale -- or should it be tail -- in the spectacle of traditional Congress allies scurrying about and hobnobbing with the Congress's sworn enemies.

Omar Abdullah is an example. The second most entrenched dynasty in our country, the Abdullahs are tied to the Congress for long. Omar is a personal buddy of Rahul Gandhi and related to a popular Congress family, the Pilots, by marriage. Yet he threatened to resign and snap ties with the Congress in protest against the Congress backing the creation of new administrative units in Jammu & Kashmir. That proferred reason apart, was he worried that identification with a Congress rejected by the people would make things uncomfortable for him when the BJP was on the offensive?

Sharad Pawar held a secret meeting with Narendra Modi and made sure that it did not remain secret. Subsequently he announced the continuation of his alliance with the Congress in Maharashtra. So why the secret-parleys drama? Notice that he played safe this time and took the Rajya Sabha route to remain a player in Delhi. Clearly the NCP knows that its popularity has declined following the spread of corruption across the leadership. Pawar's traditional hold in the sugarcane belt in western Maharashtra is all but gone, also because of corruption. The Shetkari Sanghatana remains strong and has chosen to ally with the BJP-Shiv Sena.

Sharad Pawar has spent a lifetime keeping himself on the winning side. Remember how he denounced Sonia Gandhi's foreign origins and quit the Congress, but made up when it came to sharing power. He knows that the Sonia camp would ditch him if an opportunity arose. (The latest hint is in the book by Pawar's fellow minister K. V. Thomas, who describes the Maratha leader as a "back-stabber". Don't dismiss the book because of its title, Sonia, The Beloved of Masses: In the Congress the level of sycophancy indicates the level of influence). Evidently, Pawar wants to keep his options open even as he signs up with the Congress.

So does Ram Vilas Paswan, the BJP's latest ally. Some retired IPS-IAS mandarins, a former army chief, a former CBI leader, a former ambassador, and sundry others have also jumped into the BJP, no doubt hoping for some crumps of office. A few brave ones have even joined the Congress in sheer self-denial.

The opportunistic calculations of allies are compounded by newfound dissensions within the Congress itself. Saying no to Rahul or Sonia would have been unthinkable for Congressmen till yesterday. But Jyotiraditya Scindia said no when Rahul asked him to become President of the Madhya Pradesh Congress. RPN Singh said no to the presidentship of the UP Congress. Corruption-tainted Congressmen whom Rahul ordered to be kept out of the Karnataka Cabinet found their way in. Even Suresh Kalmadi of Commonwealth Games shame remains a player. Rahul is reduced to wooing the likes of Mayawati and Lalu Prasad. So much for the Congress proclamations against corruption.

Some internet surveys show the Congress getting as low as 75 seats in Parliament. Rahul's own surveyors put the figure at around 110 seats. Could that be why veterans like Digvijay Singh and Sonia sidekick Kumari Selja preferred the safety of the Rajya Sabha to the dangers of elections? To paraphrase an Irish rock group's song: I'm scared, I'm scared on a sinking ship/ I've lost a lot of time, a lot of time on it/ I'll watch as it all goes down.