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Adrift giant, dwarfed by infant

Rahul Gandhi and Sonia at the Congress’s 128th foundation day event in New Delhi. Picture by Prem Singh

New Delhi, Dec. 28: India’s Grand Old Party today quietly celebrated its foundation day as the national capital enthusiastically embraced a government born out of a movement against politicians and corruption and claiming to empower ordinary people.

The question that the Congress, which largely shared the responsibility of building the nation in the past 66 years, had to answer today was about the cloud of corruption that powered the rise of the new marvel of Indian democracy, the Aam Aadmi Party.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s answer to this question only highlighted how deep the blight of corruption has spread within the system. “Look at us by all means and point out our mistakes but look at others also,” she said.

“I would ask the media to please look at other states led by other parties, something about corruption… among their own friends and particularly among some of their ministers.”

Her son Rahul Gandhi had made similar remarks yesterday, accusing other parties of hollow assertions on combating corruption.

But the problem the Congress will now face is that its political and legal responses to the issue of corruption will be dwarfed by the moral pronouncements of Arvind Kejriwal, who has begun with a clean slate.

Both Sonia and Rahul must offer more than these episodic bursts of righteousness to compete with the new rival, which is looking to spread its base to other states.

A day after Rahul asked the Maharashtra government to review its rejection of a judicial commission’s report on the Adarsh housing scam, Sonia endorsed his position.

“That has been decided yesterday and I think it is going to be resolved,” she said, speaking informally to reporters after hoisting the party flag at the Congress headquarters.

The Adarsh report has indicted four former Congress chief ministers — one of them now the Union home minister — and other party leaders for “blatant violations” of norms in providing land to the housing society, allowing illegal construction on it, and in the allotment of some of the flats.

But the probe findings aren’t the only setback the 128-year-old Congress is faced with.

While a man it described as the anti-thesis of the idea of India, Narendra Modi, is threatening to wrest its government at the Centre, another whom it had dismissed as a maverick has all but stolen its pro-people plank and ousted its most popular chief minister.

Congress leaders, however, appear to lack any credible suggestions on how to meet these challenges.

While their answer to the Modi threat is the faint hope that a tolerant and pluralist India would ultimately reject him, their “strategy” on Kejriwal rests on a cynical belief that he would fail to fulfil his lofty promises.

Most Congress leaders point to Kejriwal’s “utopian” manifesto and expect his MLAs to fall for the loaves of power, thus implying that their party’s survival depends solely on the likelihood of the Aam Aadmi Party’s failure.

Rahul, who believed his grand plan to “open up” the system and attract common people would prove a game-changer, now has to compete with an opponent who has sprung the biggest example of the common man’s empowerment by winning the Delhi election.

Barely a couple of Kejriwal’s 28 MLAs were familiar to Delhi’s voters, yet they clobbered an army of seasoned politicians on the strength of a campaign run by volunteers from apolitical, humble backgrounds.

What Rahul dreamt of, Kejriwal has accomplished. One of Rahul’s challenges is that, unlike Kejriwal, he has to uproot entrenched forces first to create a new party leadership.

Mass enrolment will anyway be difficult for a Congress grappling with a credibility crisis. In contrast, Kejriwal has attracted people from all sections of society and handed out party memberships to lakhs in the past few weeks.

But the Congress has the advantage of size, and success against Modi can put it back on the rails.