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Thursday, January 27, 2022

Second time as farce

The UPA has made the state look like a set of thuggish weaklings.

Written by Pratap Bhanu Mehta |
June 7, 2011 1:59:28 am

The UPA government continues to defy all norms of rationality,morality,commonsense and good judgement. These days it is difficult to make sense of what the government is thinking,if it is thinking at all. But on every measure,the midnight raid on Baba Ramdev and his supporters was an act of wilful perversity. The government may have thought its raid was a show of authority. Instead it made the state look like a set of thuggish weaklings: conducting raids on peaceful congregations in the middle of the night. A peaceful protest that had no indications of turning violent led to prohibitory orders for the whole of Delhi.

Rahul Gandhi had recently asked of Mayawati: why was Section 144 imposed in Bhatta-Parsaul if she had nothing to hide? He would do better to direct this question at his own government. Such a premature use of prohibitory orders only exposes the weakness of the Congress government; it does nothing to project its authority. The problem is not that the Congress has “encouraged” civil society by caving in. The problem is that the party itself tries to act as if it were some kind of NGO,distant from government. The Congress started with cravenness,then descended to impunity. Then it made the mistake of treating citizens like idiots. Instead of presenting a clear,firm authoritative explanation that was half plausible,it let loose on the airwaves Digvijaya Singh,who went on making one unbelievable claim after the other. One can dismiss his rantings. But they have become symptomatic of the way the Congress functions. They reveal how it continues to undermine the state.

First,no one claims responsibility for anything (“the party had nothing to do with it”).

Second,there is the consistent threat to use state power to intimidate opponents. Whatever may be the realities of Baba Ramdev’s organisation,threats of investigation at this point smack of nothing short of post-facto political arbitrariness. It undermines the credibility of the state even further.

Third,there is constant dissimulation. Ramdev is a legitimate interlocutor one minute,he is Satan the next. There is a refusal to make fine distinctions: a fast-unto-death can be a form of political blackmail in a democratic society; peaceful assembly and protest are not. There was something comically chilling about the technical argument used to justify externment. The claim is that the baba was given permission for a yoga camp,not political protest. Embedded in that is a truth. In India,protest,more than anything else,is subject to a licence permit raj,with the same arbitrariness and corruption involved.

Fourth,there is the old RSS canard. The Congress’s use of the RSS card reveals its own bankruptcy. For,in a way it is admitting that it now has nothing to offer by way of an agenda,programme,argument. All it can draw upon is the hope that residual fears of the RSS will somehow mobilise support. It is also dangerously misreading the national mood. Sure,the vacuum in politics has given room for all kinds of elements. But at this moment it is the Congress that seems to be itching to play the communal card: taint the anti-corruption movement with the politics of Hindutva. To its credit,much of civil society has seen through this patent nonsense. The Congress also seems to be forgetting that it has always been the RSS’s best friend. Like in the 1970s,the fatal combination of a moral vacuum,arbitrary use of state power and the free publicity that Congress leaders give to the RSS will do more to legitimise it than anything that Baba Ramdev does. Just as civil society was beginning to overreach,the Congress made them look so good again.

Fifth,the Congress simply does not get it. Its core problem is a crisis of credibility. Nothing it says sounds believable or credible. The more it speaks the more holes it digs for itself. The middle class,still clinging on to vestiges of hope in their man Manmohan Singh,needs to ask this question: At this point will anything that the Congress says be believable? It will take an act of great political imagination and daring to restore even minimal credibility. But there is no evidence that it is capable of taking any initiative. If the party had any imagination (or even sense of humour),it would have got its major leaders to do a counter-fast of introspection,instead of letting their words get ahead of their thinking. It would have tried to keep Parliament in session,use the JPC to project credibility instead of turning it into a slugfest on the CAG.

Where do we stand now? The crisis will only deepen. Let us not forget that there are still enough open trails in various scams that could further undermine the government. The government,and perhaps the larger political class,are also in a Catch-22 situation. Since they have no moral authority,they will not be able to resist demands for all kinds of bad legislation. If they resist,they will be accused of “going soft” on corruption; if they go along with it they will condemn the country to bad legislation. Either way,there are real dangers. Whether Baba Ramdev himself gains momentum is an open question. But he has,thanks to the government,manifestly created a mood in the country that the government needs to be taught a lesson. The BJP base has,with good reason,been energised. Unfortunately,its own crisis of credibility means that it cannot assume that the rage against the government will translate into support for it. But the Congress would be foolish to underestimate the negativism. It may win a short-term reprieve. But the undercurrents of rage will translate into more tumult. A government that is arbitrary in nature will produce a citizenry that is insolent.

Unfortunately,the crisis in the Congress is structural. Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi seem to be wilfully oblivious to the responsibilities that come with power; the prime minister thinks silence is a substitute for duty. Some of its smart ministers are too arrogantly clever by half to project any credibility. A large section of the party is too submissive to ask the nasty questions that should be asked of the leadership. And those who take up the cudgels of public argument have no sense of proportion or judgement about what to say,when. What is it about the Congress party that repeatedly produces an intellectual culture that turns intelligent people into self-destructive political animals? It has performed the miracle of turning a moment of great hope for India into a moment of political despair.

The writer is president,Centre for Policy Research,Delhi

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