The prime minister read out his lacklustre, predictable and monotonous address to the troubled people from the ramparts of the historic and iconic Red Fort in Delhi. He was unable to reach out and embrace his larger constituency with a sense of warmth and confidence or excite them into believing that the enormous challenges that lie ahead in this period of change would be handled with care and creativity. The overwhelming response of a disturbed, silent and angry India was that the faith it had reposed in this messiah had been broken with his betrayal of the many promises he had made.
This year is in sharp contrast to 2004, when the elevation of Manmohan Singh to the seat of power at the Centre, deftly initiated by Sonia Gandhi, had brought in its wake a feeling of relief that an honest man had been placed at the helm to lead India forward into a phase of economic betterment and growth. Sonia Gandhi’s tyaag and Singh’s imandari made for a clean and positive partnership built on the foundations of good practice and moral fortitude.
Over the decade that followed, policy paralysis, inept and immature handling of coalition partners, unacceptable administrative practices, corruption, lack of accountability, opaque governance, rampant nepotism, unnecessary genuflection to a declining superpower — all of these came together to debilitate the Congress and the UPA II. Amidst this unholy and anarchic mess, an equally divided Opposition spent its time spreading half-truths, indulging in mud-slinging and more, to create a perception that India was being taken for a ride at the cost of the people.
The absence of an orchestrated and intelligent strategy to douse the wild fire of rumour and myth laced with bits and pieces of truth was shocking. The Congress fell silent, following the silence of its top three leaders. They abdicated the political space.
At times such as this, authoritarian leaders raise the tenor of their voices, punctuate their rhetoric with nationalism, and polarize the people in a desperate effort to swing an election. India is staring at the noose of a future that will be dictatorial. Strangely, as the noose tightens with each passing month, the party in power descends into deeper denial. Its senior leaders seem overconfident, much like aging Neros of our time. The younger lot can sense and see defeat and seem prepared to sit in the Opposition. An aged prime minister says he has not finished doing what he set out to do, implying thereby that he would like another term. This is like witnessing an unending play from the genre of the theatre of the absurd that will possibly end in tragedy. Those who have failed seem unwilling to hand over the baton to those next in line without any caveats.
The Bharatiya Janata Party has begun attacking every move and word, grabbing as many eyeballs as it can. As the Narendra Modi juggernaut rolls forward, picking up speed with each passing day, his opponents remain in denial. Numbers are trotted out, explanations given about the BJP being non-existent in the southern states, how regional satraps shun his politics, and that his own colleagues support him on the surface but know well that if he becomes the next prime minister, he will first settle scores with those who are potential competitors for the top job.
However, the elections are months away and that is a long time in politics. A radical change of trajectory is possible, if there is a will. Therefore, will the Congress leadership speak and act? Will it present some fresh ‘faces’ as representatives of the people of India, to counter Modi? Or will denial become the mantra of the Grand Old Party of India?