Feb 28, 2007

A Reality Check for the Congress Party

Here is a reality check for the Congress Party from the Business Standard.

The Congress party must be feeling as if it has been whacked on the head by an iron cricket bat. First, along came the unexpected inflation numbers in January and February and rocked the government back on its heels. These were followed, like Othello by the bear, by the unexpected (and unwelcome?) arrest of the redoubtable Ottavio Quattrocchi, a close friend of the Gandhi family at least until his involvement in the Bofors scandal became known. His arrest was foolishly kept a secret for nearly three weeks by the government. The heavens would not have fallen if it had come clean. Now it looks as if was trying to cover up something in which it had no hand. But these are piffling matters compared to the electoral defeat in two of the three states that have held elections, namely Punjab, Uttarakhand and Manipur. Congress faces may look brave but there is a quake in the hearts as Congressmen and women ask themselves: is what happened to the BJP in 2004 going to happen to us as well? Is there nothing that satisfies voters? Will incumbents always be voted out, no matter what they do? It certainly is beginning to look that way.


The immediate consequence of the (mostly expected) defeats in Punjab and Uttarkahand is that the Congress has lost power in all the states in North India, barring Jammu & Kashmir, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh. Since it has no chance of coming to power in UP in April, it is now certain that it will go into the 2009 Lok Sabha elections with a clear handicap. In the South, it has only Andhra Pradesh and in the West only Maharashtra. It is unpopular in both states. In the East, it is in power in a few states that do not make much of an impact on national politics. In short, Congress party members can be forgiven for looking glum. Apart from everything else, this reduces the party’s voting strength in the electoral college for the presidential elections, due in July, and the Congress may not therefore be able to get its candidate in as the next President. Everything now hangs on Uttar Pradesh. If the party does not improve its performance in that state, heightened political activity is going to dominate the national calendar more than it has done in the past 33 months. Among many other things, the party’s drum-beaters could turn on the “economic reformers” in the government. [

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