Fifth column: Welcome this election
Elections. And, once more a time to talk of ‘cabbages and kings’. As I watched the Chief Election Commissioner announce dates for polling last week, I found myself thinking how different the mood is this time. In 2009, when the Sonia-Manmohan government won a second term, it was, in my view, for two reasons. The first was that when the choice for prime minister became between the good doctor and the BJP’s man of steel, Dr Manmohan Singh looked much better. The second was that because the economy was booming, there was a buoyant, seductive hope in the air. A sense of possibilities, a certainty of things getting better for India, and this was especially true among the urban middle class. So it was from the cities that the Congress got its extra seats.
This time we go to the polls in a mood of bleak despair. There is a sense of drift and failure that frightens those Indians who are not committed Congress voters. If Narendra Modi is twice as popular as Rahul Gandhi, as recent polls indicate, it is because of an overwhelming belief across India that the country has been leaderless for a long while. Sonia Gandhi’s decision to play Noor Jehan behind the throne while waiting for her son to grow up was a bad one. This became painfully obvious in Singh’s second term because, when he realised that he was only a regent, he became silent and removed and so obviously subordinate to Rahul that it was embarrassing.
Had our real prime minister, Sonia, come forward and accepted responsibility for decisions and laws imposed on the government by her personally, things may perhaps have worked better. This did not happen as she chose instead, on account of her mysterious illness, to fade into the shadows herself. So rogue ministers became unbridled and incompetent ones got away with criminal incompetence. Unfortunately, this has been especially true in important ministries like Defence, Home and External Affairs, where qualifying depended not on merit but on loyalty to the Dynasty. Loyalty, alas, is of absolutely no use when it comes to matters of governance, so the sense of the Government of India cruising along on autopilot enhanced the general sense of drift. This happened at a time when the rupee started to lose its value, the economy began to slow down and when corruption scandals started tumbling out of the cupboards of senior ministers. It did not help that when these crises occurred, our two and a half prime ministers had nothing to say between them.
Then there is this new factor that has come into play. From continued…