Debating India


Renunciation and after

Wednesday 29 March 2006

That Sonia Gandhi’s second `renunciation’ in two years has breathed new life into the moribund Congress is there for all to see - in the theatrics outside 10 Janpath and in Rae Bareli, in the spate of me-too resignation offers, in the competitive worshipping of a party chief who thinks nothing of giving up two coveted posts, membership of the Lok Sabha and chairpersonship of the National Advisory Council.

Sycophancy is second nature to Congresspersons - the last witnessed ritual congregation around the first family was when Ms. Gandhi turned down prime ministerial office after her party’s surprising success in the 14th general election. But there is a qualitative difference between May 2004 and March 2006. Two years ago the mood was sombre, reflecting the sense of loss that came with Ms. Gandhi’s refusal of office. `Sacrifice’ is the word in currency today also but Congresspersons know, as does Ms. Gandhi, that her resignation is less renunciation than opportunity - to revive the party and get even with an Opposition obsessively targeting the Congress chief. The determination was evident in Ms. Gandhi’s combative attitude as well as her "mein ladoongi, zaroor ladoongi" ("I will fight, definitely fight") declamation. The Congress president’s victory from Rae Bareli is a foregone conclusion. What is not so clear is whether the renunciation card will work anywhere else.

An early test for the Congress will be the upcoming elections to five State Assemblies. In West Bengal, the Left Front is far too well entrenched to leave any doubt about the next government. In Kerala, the Left Democratic Front has regained the edge with the Communist Party of India (Marxist) fielding V.S. Achuthanandan, doughty warrior and leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Assembly, again. In Tamil Nadu, the Congress is a minor player, while Pondicherry and Assam are not big enough to matter either way. Uttar Pradesh is the State to watch, but it may also be the toughest nut to crack. In April 2004, when Rahul Gandhi filed his nomination for the Amethi Lok Sabha seat, the cheering crowds gave the impression of a wave for the Congress. Wave it was, but only in the Gandhi-Nehru pocket borough of Rae Bareli-Amethi. The Congress finished with nine of 80 Lok Sabha seats to the Samajwadi Party’s 35 and the Bahujan Samaj Party’s 19. This is not to deny the political success of Ms. Gandhi’s decision. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s offensive has been blunted, and its own vulnerability on the office of profit question has been exposed. Its State legislators are in trouble with a flood of complaints reaching the Election Commission. Barely 24 hours after the BJP accused the Congress of an ordinance conspiracy to save Ms. Gandhi from disqualification, the Jharkhand Assembly passed, by voice vote, the Jharkhand Legislature (Removal of Disqualification) Bill 2006 to save the Arjun Munda regime.

See online : The Hindu

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