The multi-million dollar IPL extravaganza took off earlier this month. The frenzied sporting event, now in its in sixth edition, ushers in a festive mood every year for the ever enthusiastic Indian cricket fans. This time it has been no different. But while the aam aadmi rejoices the colourful cricket show, the sixers and the glamorous cheerleaders, the political arena’s major player has very little to be cheerful about. Political dramas and feuds have hogged the news since the past month and it is the party in power, the Congress, which has found itself as the ‘star’ of a shoddy drama.
The Congress party hasn’t had a good run in the past few months. Keeping aside its corruption and scam tainted image, the party has been embroiled in serious mess, just as its second term nears the end.
To begin with, the party received a major blow when one of its major allies the Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam (DMK) decided to withdraw support to the Congress led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) accusing the government of being ‘unwilling’ to take on Sri Lanka at the UN on alleged war crimes against the minority Tamils. The stirred and shaken Congress immediately went on a damage control mode and initiated appease-them talks with two other major allies, the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), whose support the party needs to stay just above the majority mark of 272. The real headache started when SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav, sensing a wounded Congress, started threatening that it would follow in the footsteps of the DMK if the Congress did not stop “bullying its allies.”Although aware that both the SP and BSP stayed in the alliance purely out of self interest, the threats did put the Congress on back-foot forcing it to handle the case rather sensibly. SP later declared that it would continue to support the UPA for the time being. But tension escalated when one of the former SP members and now a Congress Minister Beni Prasad Verma and Mulayam Singh Yadav got engaged in a war of words, taking frequent jibes at each other. Sensing risk in angering the SP, the Congress made all attempts to act as a peacemaker. Although the party has given public assurance that it will complete its full term, a sense of fear and nervousness still haunts it.
As if the niggling allies were not enough, the Congress faced flak from its own members. The first to do so was controversial leader Digvijay Singh who claimed that Congress ran with two power centres referring to the split of authority between the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and party chief Sonia Gandhi. He claimed that the ‘dual power theory’ was not working well and needed to be reformed. The opposition was quick to capitalize on the comment and criticized the PM for being powerless and Gandhi for exercising the state authority rather extra-constitutionally. The Congress termed Singh’s comments as personal without forcing the latter to take the statement back. Singh was not the only member to speak in a tone that embarrassed the Congress. Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, after a visit to Kashmir valley earlier this week, expressed displeasure over the Centre’s running of the state and claimed that it was the intelligence agencies that dictated Kashmir policy. Although this time the party did not make any statement, it was clear that there was discontentment amongst many regarding the functioning of the party and the way party ran and led the coalition government at the centre.
Party number 2 Rahul Gandhi has not been spared criticism either. His address to a meet of industrialists in the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) drew more brickbats than bouquets. Gandhi, the likely prime ministerial candidate for 2014, was slammed for being vague and for failing to touch upon major issues such as high inflation, decelerating investment, ballooning current account deficit etc. His metaphorical statement linking India with a ‘beehive’ became a laughing stock and did not make much of sense.
Also, not to forget, the party has had to battle pressure even at the state level especially in its stronghold Delhi, where it has been blamed for failed governance and lack of law and security.
With its image taking a serious beating, the future of Congress looks bleak. It finds itself in a mess at a time when the party is looking forward to win a third term -- in the 2014 general elections. But without a major image recovery soon, a repeat of the Congress win appears unlikely.