Fifth Column: Reality hurts hard

India needs a strong, vigilant opposition party as much as it needs an effective government.

Written by Tavleen Singh | Updated: June 1, 2014 12:31:04 am
The Congress needs to make a serious effort to rise from the ashes of its worst-ever defeat. The Congress needs to make a serious effort to rise from the ashes of its worst-ever defeat.

No government more deserved to be dumped in history’s dustbin than the one just thrown out by India’s voters. But the only people who seem not to know this are that government’s former ministers. I have in the past week run into these newly jobless politicians in this city’s fine restaurants and celebrated drawing rooms and, to a man, they exhibited bitterness and incomprehension. The election results have taken them so totally by surprise that they find it hard to conceal their hatred of Narendra Modi or their anger about having to move out of the rarefied environs of Lutyens Delhi. So conversations usually go something like this. ‘You think this lot can do better than we did? Well, you have no idea what you’re talking about. We did a really good job and if we couldn’t win, it’s not our fault.’

More often than not, the ex-minister who says this sort of thing has not even managed to win his own seat, so the bitterness runs deep. I try in my usual gentle way to explain what went wrong, but this is interpreted as an attempt to provoke so I end up being accused of ‘hating’ Sonia Gandhi and ‘promoting’ Narendra Modi. And a political discussion becomes impossible. But it is one that the Congress needs to have, if not publicly, then at least with its ‘high command’, so as a political pundit who correctly predicted what has come to be, I feel emboldened to give some free advice.

India needs a strong, vigilant opposition party as much as it needs an effective government, so the Congress needs to make a serious effort to rise from the ashes of its worst-ever defeat. This will not happen if men and women who till yesterday were holders of high office continue behaving like petulant schoolchildren. They must scrutinise their record of the past decade with integrity and without prejudice, and if they do this, they will realise that the record is a dismal one.

Sonia Gandhi placed at the highest levels of government people she chose on grounds of loyalty and not merit, so vital ministries like Defence and Home were in the hands of family retainers. External Affairs was in the hands of a minister so oblivious of external affairs that he once read a speech in the UN General Assembly that was written for Portugal’s foreign minister. While we delve for a moment into history, let us remember the sickening helplessness exhibited by every senior Congress leader after the worst terrorist act committed on Indian soil. Of 26/11 let us also remember that Digvijaya Singh released a book that described it as an RSS conspiracy and that Rahul Gandhi told an American ambassador that he was more worried about Hindu terrorists than jihadis.

Now let us come to internal affairs. In such important areas as Education and Health, there was a lot of bluster about a new education policy and a rural health mission but on the ground nothing changed. In the past decade, more and more Indians, even those living in desperate poverty, have been forced to send their children to private schools and rely on private health services. Of course some of this is the fault of inefficient state governments, but if there had been better policies in Delhi, it would have made all the difference. Let us not forget that the National Advisory Council forced many very expensive welfare schemes down the throat of all our state governments.

Had these horrendously expensive schemes created jobs, reduced poverty and malnutrition and improved the lives of the poor, there may have been a Congress prime minister once more. They did not and nor did the ‘rights-based governance’ that Rahul Gandhi boasted of during the election campaign. The reason why these so-called rights made so little impact is because people believe correctly that it is the fundamental duty of any government to provide decent public services anyway.

These things should be obvious to anyone who wants to govern a country the size of a continent, but if they are not, it is because of the reduction of the Government of India to a caboodle of sycophants. This is what happened in the past decade, because if you can make the prime minister into a family retainer, everything eventually starts to fall apart.

Everything did, but the consequences of an unaccountable de facto prime minister being the person in charge only began to be felt in the past three years. This is when this country’s official prime minister chose to abdicate his responsibilities towards the people of India and become instead a regent for the anointed prince. It did not take long for the people of this ancient, broken- down land to realise that what was needed was not democratic feudalism but real democracy.

Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh

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