The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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- The Congress cannot easily undo the Goa-Jharkhand damage

The capitulation in the late hours of March 11 does not change the context. The Indian polity is suddenly in a deep mess, mostly on account of the misdoings of the scraggy outfit still passing as the Congress.

Bizarre is the expression most used to describe the unfolding events, and bizarre indeed these have been. For instance, if reports are to be believed, the prime minister has denied any prior knowledge of the shenanigans indulged in by the governors of Goa and Jharkhand. Is he not insulting the intelligence of his countrymen ' and, let it be added, his own intelligence too' On the other hand, it is altogether conceivable that he is indeed prince innocent, he is much too small a fry in the Congress establishment; those who matter did not bother to inform him about the feats of derring-do they had planned end executed.

This is, however, not an issue of substance. The spin-off of the Jamir-Sibtey Razi improprieties is. To fume at supposedly judicial excesses is comprehensively beside the point. The Supreme Court would have found no occasion to intervene if the gubernatorial excesses had not taken place in the first place. The democratic process as it operates in the country is not much to write home about. It has now been brought to a new low by the happenings in Panjim and Ranchi, with governors deporting themselves not as guardian angels protecting the Constitution, but as Congress chieftains, which they, in fact, are. It was not just happenstance that, in both cases, when the state governor took his momentous decision to effect a constitutional coup, the same Central minister was closeted with him. In both cases, again, the nature of the governor's directive is the same: twenty-four days for the Congress pal to prove his majority in the assembly, twenty-four hours for those who opposed the Congress.

T.S Eliot all over: time past is present in time present and threatens to be there even in time future. The party claiming the Nehru-Gandhi inheritance is apparently incapable of moving away from the fatal attraction of its authoritarian past. A leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has expressed the same apprehension in more forthright language: the tiger does not change its spots, nor does the Congress. The obscene drama enacted by the two governors is of impeccable Congress vintage, bringing back to mind the memory of the pyrotechnics of the Dharam Viras and Dhawans in West Bengal in the Seventies and the after-hour machinations of governors in the north-eastern states in later years. Even the Congress speakers and pro tem speakers have performed according to the script first tried out in Manipur a dozen years ago; throw out a legislator if he would not vote for the Congress. For governors or speakers to protest that they have acted according to their conscience is fatuity; their conscience has faithfully reflected the Congress's utter lack of it. True, the Bharatiya Janata Party acolytes have not, at least in Goa, behaved any more honourably; the example, they can however honestly argue, was set for them by the Congress. If the Nehru-Gandhi party genuinely wants to be in sackcloth and ashes, it must immediately remove from office the two guilty governors.

Big skullduggery in its wake shows the way to small-scale skullduggery, such as putting the seal of approval on the bogus Jharkhand chief minister's nomination of an Anglo-Indian member even before the vote of confidence was passed in the assembly. Of much graver import, the United Progressive Alliance looks, because of developments over the past month, very much more a temporary business than it did even a fortnight ago. One reaps what one sows. It was the Congress which ignited Ram Vilas Paswan's ambition, and the vote was fractured in Bihar, Loyalties are now torn asunder. A sullen Laloo Prasad Yadav is capable of embarking on activities which might considerably weaken the political frame the government in New Delhi leans upon.

Following Paswan's footsteps, other politicians could be equally footloose ' to the extent of re-fraternizing with the BJP. The cumulative result could be a resurgence in the political fortunes of the sectarian forces, something the Congress, at least on paper, is determined to prevent. In this volatile climate, the public image also counts a great deal; the Congress, who can deny, has lost much of its image because of its recent too-clever-by-half initiatives.

Both major political parties in the country have in any event exhibited total contempt for the Sarkaria Commission's relatively mild recommendation: if governors have to be retained for states, they should not at least be picked from the tribe of active politicians. A plague on both your houses ' can be the disappointed response from pundits who are wont to conceive India as the arcadia of constitutional democracy. That will hardly help the millions and millions who still have to live and toil in this land. It is therefore necessary to find a way out of the present muddle. The problem is not with governors tutored to be wayward; it is with a party unable to shed its authoritarian character and yet aspiring to lead a secular democratic alliance. It cannot be ignored either, for it has an organizational scaffolding across the nation. The scaffolding, unfortunately, is mostly hollow. However, precisely because of this structural weakness, it is difficult ' even impossible ' for the party to discard its imperial style which goes ill with the spirit of democracy. It cannot tolerate the reality of a Mulayam Singh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh, and is equally reluctant to play second fiddle to Laloo Prasad Yadav in Bihar. Therefore the itch to create schisms even within the UPA, and use the administration for dirty manoeuvres.

Having created a load of mischief, thereby spoiling its own credentials, the Congress is trying desperately to retrieve the situation ' by hook or by crook. Crookery has for once failed in Jharkhand, and the sense of outrage is widespread in the country. Having committed some major blunders, the party's leadership is in the mood for a damage control exercise. It should have no illusion though. It is no longer a question of patching up isolated mistakes made by henchmen here and there. With too many loose cannons booming away, the problem has assumed the dimensions of a disaster control exercise. Disasters that are the end product of blunders by the human species can often pose as much a challenge as natural disasters do. The party may for now be in a repenting mood. But repentance is a non-affordable luxury when the original act has fearsome after-effects. Should the BJP stage a major political recovery riding piggyback on the afflictions the Congress has caused to itself, it is the nation in its entirety which will have to cope with the subsequent developments. It would then be an open season of fundamentalist revenge and settling of accounts.

The prospects could be even grimmer. International finance capital has invaded India's shores with unprecedented zest. The record bull run in the stock exchanges and record accumulation of foreign exchange holdings are its gifts. The Indian upper class has not experienced a rosier time. Were political uncertainties to mount within the country, and international institutional investors then choose a moment to walk out on India, it would be an instance of economic turmoil adding spice to the domestic confusion. Is this the future we are, with bated breath, looking forward to'

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