Congress Down, Not Out

The Congress Party is taking stock of what went wrong or indeed just did not go right in the recent Assembly elections. We already know most of it. It is not so much a matter of looking for correctives and solutions, as it is a matter of quickly making up our mind about our political attitude. In Rajasthan œgovernment servants (as opposed to the œcivil servants) were determined to defeat us and indeed contributed considerably. That does not mean that we automatically reverse our stand on their demands. Of course we must re-examine the issues to ensure that there was no mistake, or misjudging of impact, or oversight. We may still feel that the Changing dynamics of the economy and governance made our decision inevitable and that any opposite, populist decision of the new government would not be sustainable. In that case we must not let our resolution weaken. But there may still be scope for improving communication and making our position more palatable. If Ashok Ghelot “ the magician could not perform magic, his successor can hardly hope to pull rabbits out of a hat! The good that Ashok Gehlot has done will not be interred with his bones because he lives beyond defeat.

In Madhya Pradesh the Dalit Agenda of Digvijay Singh is the most extensively researched, comprehensive social development concept ever articulated in India; superb theory that may --- have gone awry in practical implementation. Fundamental reforms seldom come without cussed resistance. Even revolution are said to devour their own children. So Digvijay Singh's defeat on this score should not cause us to retreat. Ofcourse there were a host of other reasons that can be easily addressed. In Digvijay Singh and Ashok Gehlot their successors will find very formidable leaders of opposition. The former did not have any such challengers for most of their terms of office. They had also in their own turn vanquished stalwarts of the BJP in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. So people will make a terrible mistake if they write them off. The record of these two Congress Chief Ministers may not have got them another term, but is not hidden from the people. Mr. Arun Jaitley and Mr. Pramod Mahajan may soon discover that it is a lot easier to derail the Congress wagons than to keep their own train running!

There were three other states “ Chattisgarh, Mizoram and Delhi. We slipped because of an overkill in the first, came within a whisker of displacing MNF in the second, (and even now a long term future for the MNF government seems doubtful), and we won Delhi putting a conspicuous question mark on the much talked about election management expertise of BJP whizkids. I say to them, Please don't tell us that we have lost the ability to win or that our brains do not match yours. When the BJP lost Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi last time, no one said that Atalji's innings were over and that Advaniji would not even get a chance to bat. The great Indian heroes could not take the smell of onions with a bit of tomato ketchup! We have at least gone down fighting on development “ ours versus theirs, real versus imagined!

We are quite pleased that Mr. Pramod Mahajan could not contain his excitement and told us BJP plans for Parliament elections_Three issues that we have no problem in joining. But I wish his party would be equally transparent on the timing of the election. I know the theory of a Prime Minister's prerogative to call early elections. But we also have a constitution and a constitutional culture. Why early elections? Only because you feel you have a better chance to win? Because your MPs shudder at the thought of what Uma Bharti and Vasundra Raj Scindia will do to shining India in six months? And indeed why is Ayodhya not one of the issues? Article 370 or the uniform Civil Code? And many more similar BJP-RSS preoccupations? The first development steps the new BJP governments have taken are to ban cow slaughter (as though anybody had an opposite view) and Uma Bharti has king Arthur like set her heart to rehabilitate the Bhojshala.

Just to put the record straight_The Congress is ready to take on the BJP-NDA challenge at any time. Ofcourse we have some homework to do, but they will underestimate our determination at their own peril. This country votes very wisely to keep all parties on their toes. BJP has got a few states, we expect that the Centre will be ours. The alliances will fall into place before they know. There are a lot of small parties that are thinking about what happened, just as we are. The BJP elasticity on alliance is beginning to snap. Our elasticity has yet to be utilized. BJP Brace yourself for some surprises.

There is one thing that the BJP will not persuade us on “ to play down the personality of Sonia Gandhi. We do believe she is the best for the Congress and the people. I do not believe that we have yet to unleash her inherent charm and humane modern professionalism. A leader can be and must be many things to many people. Which dimension works at a particular time, against a particular challenge, is a matter of strategy. Surprise is a great ally in any battle. The Congress promises many pleasant surprises in the run up to General Elections 2004. Walking the talk may not quite do, we hope to make the BJP run for its life!

Salman Khurshid