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Turn the page

Once Shashi Tharoor’s fate as minister of state at the Centre was sealed at a Congress Core Group meeting late Sunday evening,the system hummed like clockwork.

Written by The Indian Express |
April 20, 2010 2:11:28 am

Once Shashi Tharoor’s fate as minister of state at the Centre was sealed at a Congress Core Group meeting late Sunday evening,the system hummed like clockwork. The agenda was clear and right: government and party wanted to begin the new week in Parliament on a new page. Crucial business,especially related to the Budget,needs to be transacted in Lok Sabha — and UPA-II knows it’s skating on thinning ice in the House. And the space given by the Congress and the UPA government to Tharoor to sustain his last defence has depleted their political capital — especially amidst the kind of opposition unity by which the BJP and the Left,and all those in between,are echoing each other on cut motions to test the government’s margin of majority in the House.

Were the UPA to muster the heart to look within,it would be found that its edginess draws not from the composition of the 15th Lok Sabha,but the Congress’s loss of its centre of gravity. UPA-II managed to moot and begin implementing an ambitious agenda of rights not just because of the Congress’s more than 200 MPs in Lok Sabha — but also because the general election last summer gave the party the appearance of gathering the political momentum. If less than a year later that unqualified optimism seems past,the party must inquire how its political capital got so rapidly depleted,how it’s giving signs of drift,and how it’s being taken apart by an airing of that old Congressmen’s tendency for each to watch out for himself. For a telling instance,one need just look back a few days. In a newspaper article,Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh perverted the common-sense case for looking at the welfare of India’s poorest into a critique of Home Minister P. Chidambaram,positing the government resolve to take on the security threat posed by Maoists as a construct of the minister’s “intellectual arrogance”. The consequent impression can so easily be of the party’s tolerance for such attempts to undermine government cohesiveness — an opening the opposition would eagerly grab. To truly turn the page,the party needs to clamp down on this one-upmanship for the sake of personal positioning.

Even in Parliament,the drift is visible — take the non-introduction of the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill and errors in aligning the draft to the International Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage. The drift is compounded by the government’s coyness on reaching out to the opposition on legislative business. That is not a question of numbers,but of attitude.

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