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Home > News > Columnists > T V R Shenoy

Sonia's scapegoats

January 21, 2003

In 1991, it tookUnited Nations forces precisely 100hours of fighting on land to expel the Iraqis from Kuwait. Narendra Modi has taken a little under 72hours for one of his opposing numbers to be given marching orders. Shortly after the Bharatiya Janata Party staged a hugely successful rally in Mumbai to felicitate Modi on his victory in Gujarat, a nervous Congress (I) high command had summoned the chief minister of Maharashtra to Delhi, informing him that he was on his way out.

The after-shocks of the political quake in Gujarat last month are just beginning to be felt. Nor, I predict, shall poor Vilasrao Deshmukh be the last victim as Sonia Gandhi and her advisors look for scapegoats. The current chief minister of Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot, is almost certainly going to be asked to put his head on the chopping block sooner rather than later. And what happens after that? I doubt that Madhya Pradesh's Digvijay Singh will be moved in a hurry -- after the Vidhan Sabha election perhaps -- but the vultures are circling over Karnataka...

I am not quite sure that I understand why all these changes might be rung in. Both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress (I) have tried chopping and changing chief ministers on the eve of polls -- the Congress (I) in Punjab and the Bharatiya Janata Party in Delhi. Both attempts were remarkably unsuccessful. Nor, more recently, did the National Conference succeed in its ploy of presenting the voters with a new face, Omar Abdullah, in place of his father, the outgoing chief minister of Jammu andKashmir, Farooq Abdullah.

That is not to sayVilasrao Deshmukh was doing a wonderful job in Maharashtra. He was clearly out of his depth as head of a multi-party coalition. Last year, he barely managed to quash a rebellion in the ranks, when the Shiv Sena all but pulled off a coup by inciting dissidents. If the Congress (I) were serious about leadership changes, it would have been wiser to effect one shortly after.

Instead, the Congress (I) has, stupidly, put itself in a position where it is hard-pressed to explain why it has shunted out Vilasrao Deshmukh. 'He was doing a very good job,' says his successor, Sushil Kumar Shinde, 'and I welcome the opportunity to work in the state once again with my old friend.' 'He was doing a very good job,' Shivraj Patil announced on television shortly after, 'and I am sure his talents shall be put to great use in Delhi.' Both of them cannot be right. (Is Deshmukh going to be confined to Delhi or to Mumbai?) But the point is that neither is an adequate explanation for why he was kicked out in the first place.

For the record, I believeDeshmukh did not, in fact, do a good job as an administrator. Maharashtra, once the economic engine of the nation, is drowning in a sea of red ink, its budget deficits ballooning at an alarming rate. In Vidarbha, cotton farmers are committing suicide because the Deshmukh ministry was utterly inadequate in giving them any kind of support. And the less said of the law and order situation, the better! So, there were reasons aplenty to get rid of Deshmukh, but not one that the Congress (I) can admit.

If Deshmukh's record does not stand scrutiny that of his Rajasthan counterpart is an utter disgrace. It may be true that the state has been hit by the worst drought in half a century, but that does not condone the callousness of Ashok Gehlot and his ministers. The administration tried its best to pass off media reports of starvation deaths as due to natural causes. Gehlot went so far as to claim that rotis made of grass were some kind of a local delicacy!

(I hate to make such a comparison, but neighbouring Gujarat was hit equally hard by drought, not to mention the devastating earthquake of January 2001. Yet have there been any reports of starvation even in Kutch or Saurashtra? You can be sure that the dedicated Modi-baiters in the media would have gleefully leapt on any such story had there been one!)

As with Deshmukh, the right time to ease Ashok Gehlot out of office would have been six months ago. The message would then have gone out that the Congress (I) high command cared more for the starving people of Rajasthan than it cared to stand on its own dignity; today, the conventional wisdom is that it is doing so for fear of Narendra Modi.

Of course, a chief minister or two is not the only thing to be sacrificed. At the Pachmarhi session, the Congress (I) high command had vowed to go it alone in all future major polls. In the post-Gujarat era, it has jettisoned that ideal, saying the door is open to alliances. Principles, like chief ministers, are nothing more than fodder at the altar of expedience as far as Sonia Gandhi is concerned.


T V R Shenoy


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Number of User Comments: 45




Sub: Sonia's scapegoats...

This is inevitable,if the Pradesh Party chief and the CM are at loggerheads... However this seems to have been a deliberate ploy,as if Vilasrao's or ...


Posted by L.Y.Rao.





Sub: need a balance view

shenoy is totally bias in writing this article,changes in c.m. it has been done by all parties if u look at what happened to u.p.they ...


Posted by srinivas





Sub: RE:Regarding the removal of Deshmukh from the Chief Miniser.

"The congress' governance may not be the best, yet it atleast treats all Indians equally." Really, Mr Mehta ? How enlightening .. ! ! ! ...


Posted by Arvind





Sub: to Sabyasachi Mitra - Wake Up

Sabyasachiji, Gujarat is no Green Land. Know the facts first. gujarat is severely affected by droughts, even worse than rajasthan (considering the population) and water ...


Posted by ambika





Sub: COUNTRY REIGNED BY CONGRESS

Hello Mr. Shenoy, after reading your article in rediff.com, I felt that this country still owes very much to Congress & it's utterly dis-gusting leadership. ...


Posted by BHUPINDER SINGH BEDI




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