October 1, 2011 12:40:03 am
Here are the three most popular political questions these days: is UPA 2 dead,or not quite dead yet but gasping for breath,and whether it is possible to revive it or not. There isnt a fourth possibility in this equation. Lets try and simplify this in Test cricket terms.
In May 2009,UPAs second term could be seen as the beginning of a new Test match as favourites. But the script has gone wrong. So today,it is like it came out to bat,and was 82 all out. It has been asked to follow on,chasing a big deficit. Nobody believes it will stage a stirring fightback and recover,but that,as often happens with teams following on after a disastrous first innings collapse,it would fold up quickly again. Maybe for 182 this time. It would be the political equivalent of a stunning innings defeat on the third day of this political Test match,or 2012,the third year of this Lok Sabha. So the basic reading is,not dead,or nearly dead,but down on its knees,following on,and looking hopeless.
A recovery is not impossible. Some of the most stirring fightbacks in cricket history have come after follow-ons. But team managements and captains have to do something bravely different to make that happen. Like,for example,changing the batting order. Or threatening some irresponsible batsmen with the sack. Is the UPA (or rather Congress) management capable of doing that?
On form,it would not seem so. Its leaderships response,even under such extreme stress,has been utter nonchalance. Its lack of conviction in its own ability is fully matched by its contempt for its opposition. That is why the moment you ask its megaphones a hard question,you are likely to be hit by something like: and what about the BJP? So,do you love Narendra Modi? And,hello,who do you vote for?
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All this will not work. What may work,instead,is the political equivalent of a radical shuffling of the batting order and approach.
First of all,the Congress has to decide whether it wants to continue with Manmohan Singh as its prime minister. If it doesnt,it should end his agony now,and appoint a replacement. And if they do,which I presume is the case,they should say so to their rank and file,and even more importantly to the utterly unruly Congress contingent in the Union cabinet,so self-destructively unruly indeed that the only comparison you would find appropriate is the Pakistani cricket team. The party leadership has to then ask all its Shoaib Akhtars (it has a bunch of them compared to Pakistans one) to fall in line,or be dropped. No scuttling of cabinet proposals backed by the prime minister,and the political equivalent of capital punishment if anybody is seen undermining his authority (my conscience would not have allowed it but I was under pressure from the PMO kind of stuff). You either make sure your prime ministers writ runs,or people will choose another prime minister. People now have choices,and no patience. And they may not share your self-serving contempt for your opposition.
If this first,prime ministerial question is settled,you can move on. Identify islands of impatience within your top brass. Tell Pranab Mukherjee that he will be nominated for Rashtrapati Bhavan next July. Your basic instinct would be to make him and all other aspirants wait till the last day,until their nails have all disappeared in their bellies. Now that luxury is not available. You need your most important but lately faltering cabinet member at peace with himself. Not angry,impatient,frustrated. Next,tell Chidambaram,who has been keen to get back to Finance,to wait just a bit,that he will move sideways into his preferred half in North Block as Pranab moves into Rashtrapati Bhavan. That will settle the issue with and between these big two.
Who will then replace Chidambaram in Home? Start now,by bringing Sheila Dikshit into the cabinet. S.M. Krishna,one of the nicest,most gracious people youd meet in politics,has to be most respectfully offered a Raj Bhavan. Sheila Dikshits induction will achieve several things. One,you will bring an experienced,true-blue Uttar Pradesh politician,with experience and thick skin,in the cabinet. See how skilfully she handled the CAG report on CWG compared to how many other Congressmen blundered. She would be the first woman in the Cabinet Committee on Security since the passing away of Indira Gandhi,and she would also be the first member from the Hindi heartland in this most powerful body in UPA 2. By next year,she can be a deserving replacement for Chidambaram in Home. Of course,the second benefit would be the end of blood-letting between her and Ajay Maken,provided he is appointed Delhi chief minister. The challenge of winning Delhi for the fourth time in 2013 will keep him busy and quiet.
The next steps will be the toughest because they will challenge the partys own entrenched immune system. Consider this fact: six of the seven fourth-term members in this Rajya Sabha are from the Congress. (The seventh is BJPs S S Ahluwalia and guess what? His first two terms were courtesy the Congress!) Of the third-term members,the score is 13 out of 20. In fact,only 26 out of the 153 first-time RS members now are from the Congress. In the 20-member Congress Working Committee (CWC),only five including Sonia and Rahul are members of Lok Sabha. What does this tell us? That the party has been overwhelmed by political squatters who bring no votes or seats but are so very hot at gossip,intrigue and parlour games,sabotaging their own government. They have no base of their own and mostly no real talent but sycophancy. So here is what to do. Ask every two-term Rajya Sabha MP who has been rewarded with a cabinet position,or a place in the party hierarchy,to choose a constituency now. He should nurse this constituency and must contest for Lok Sabha next time round,whether it is in 2014 or earlier. That one solitary step,the prospect of facing an election,and that too probably earlier than 2014,would cool all fratricidal ardour and bring discipline back to this cabinet. It is not insignificant that most of the infighting in this cabinet takes place amongst these permanent Rajya Sabha-ists with nothing to lose,and they are also the most prolific and brazen at challenging the prime ministers authority and gratuitously dropping the Gandhis name.
Carry on from here. Ask the seniormost amongst these to go and win back their states for the party. Assign Digvijaya Singh to bring back Madhya Pradesh which he lost in 2003. Veerappa Moily,helped by an able Jairam Ramesh, should win back Karnataka,and Ahmed Patel should focus full-time on defeating Modi in Gujarat. All three states are run by the BJP,bring 83 seats to Lok Sabha and will hold the key to power in 2014. These stalwarts,with their skills and experience,are needed to defeat the BJP in its strongholds,rather than to be permanent intriguers,if not self-styled whistleblowers against their own government.
It is a lot of ask,you might say,using a cricketing metaphor. But it is the only way out. Otherwise,an innings defeat is guaranteed. And I am happy to stick my neck out and predict that,irrespective of what my voting preference might be.
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