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It needs more than empty symbolism to restore the Congress's shine

April 16, 2015 10:46 IST

'Sonia Gandhi can't rejuvenate the party, her heir is fodder for stand-up comedians, and nobody in the Congress has the guts to question the Nehru-Gandhis,' says T V R Shenoy.

Rahul Gandhi

On March 12, 1930, Mahatma Gandhi set off on a 390 kilometre trek to the Arabian Sea. It has gone down in history as the Dandi March.

On March 12, 2015, Sonia Gandhi strolled half a kilometre, from the Congress headquarters on Delhi's Akbar Road to a bungalow on Motilal Nehru Marg. It will go down as an exercise in uselessness.

I have no idea if the Congress president -- or any of the sycophants behind her -- realised the significance of the date. But the 'solidarity march' was a microcosm of everything wrong with the Congress.

Rahul Gandhi's absence spoke volumes about the vacuum -- literal as well as metaphorical -- of leadership in the Congress. Sonia Gandhi can't rejuvenate the party, her heir is fodder for stand-up comedians, and nobody in the Congress has the guts to question the Nehru-Gandhis.

Equally, the Congress does not know how to tackle allegations of corruption. The show of affection for Dr Manmohan Singh came after a judge ordered him to present himself in court to explain his actions in connection with the Coal Scam. (Dr Singh was coal minister at the time.)

Nobody believes Dr Manmohan Singh received a paisa out of the many scams that took place between 2004 and 2014. Equally, nobody accepts that he took decisions on his own, whether during the Coal Scam, the 2G Scam, or any other scam. Rumblings by his former colleagues -- former law minister H R Bhardwaj, former environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan -- lend weight to suspicions that people in power were instructed to look away at key moments.

So on March 12, 2015 the talk was that the 'solidarity march' was driven by the fear that Dr Manmohan Singh would let the skeletons tumble out of the cupboard. He saw how the Congress treated P V Narasimha Rao after he lost power.

Dr Singh himself was humiliated, while still in office, by Rahul Gandhi threatening to 'tear up' an ordinance approved by the Cabinet.

With rumours floating around of Dr Manmohan Singh reaching out to BJP leaders, the Congress had to demonstrate 'solidarity'.

But keeping the former premier quiet and erasing public perceptions of Congress corruption are two different matters.

On March 26 a report by the Comptroller & Auditor General was tabled in the Haryana Vidhan Sabha. It suggested that the former Congress ministry, led by Bhupinder Singh Hooda, gave undue favours to Sky Light Hospitality, which is owned by Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law, Robert Vadra.

Sky Light Hospitality purchased three-and-a-half acres of land in Manesar for 15.38 crore (Rs 153.8 million). It then won permission from the Hooda government for changing land use, and subsequently sold the same property to DLF for 58 crore (Rs 580 million).

There is more to the story. Where did Sky Light Hospitality, a firm with a paid-up share capital of exactly Rs 1 lakh (rs 100,000), get the money to purchase the land in the first instance?

The story goes that a public sector bank arranged an overdraft facility of Rs 7.94 crore (Rs 79.4 million); unless it is confirmed -- as it has not been to date -- the story remains a 'story'.

Leaving all that for another day, here is another question: If the former chief minister is summoned by a court, will Sonia Gandhi march from Delhi to Rohtak to demonstrate 'solidarity' with Bhupinder Singh Hooda?

Speaking of former chief ministers, on March 2, 2015, Ashok Chavan was appointed as president of the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee. This was part of a series of appointments reportedly made by Rahul Gandhi to give the Congress a fresh look.

Will the appointment of Ashok Chavan help?

Chavan became chief minister of Maharashtra in December 2008. In November 2010 Ashok Chavan had to resign because his family was reportedly involved in the Adarsh Housing Scam.

K Sankaranarayanan, then governor of Maharashtra, refused the CBI permission to prosecute. However, in November 2014, the Bombay high court rejected the CBI's plea to drop Chavan's name from the list of the accused.

On March 4, 2015, two days after he took over as president of the Congress's Maharashtra unit, the Bombay high court dismissed Chavan's application for recall of its previous order.

To sum up, the Adarsh Housing Scam is still being investigated, and Ashok Chavan himself is not off the hook. How is the Congress going to deal with this?

It can admit that Rahul Gandhi erred in making Ashok Chavan the face of the Congress in India's second-largest state, or it can march from Delhi to Mumbai to show its 'solidarity'.

Speaking of K Sankaranarayanan, having resigned when the Narendra Modi government moved him from Maharashtra to Mizoram, he reportedly said, 'I will start working for the Congress.' The 82 year old has company in 86-year-old Vakkom Purushothaman, who quit as governor of Mizoram rather than shift to Nagaland, and has also said he will now work for the Congress.

The two octogenarian Keralites can offer advice and solace to their state's 82-year-old finance minister, now embroiled in an alleged bribery scandal.

K M Mani was saved embarrassment by the behaviour of the Left Democratic Front when he tried to present the state budget. But public attention has now turned back to the allegations levelled by Biju Ramesh, working president of the Bar Hotel Association, who now claims that Congress ministers too were involved, specifically naming Excise Minister K Babu.

The Kerala Congress-Mani says First Information Reports should be registered against the Congress minister just as was done when its own leader, K M Mani, was in the firing line.

With the floodwaters at the doorstep of her own party in Kerala -- the second-largest state, after Karnataka, still ruled by a Congress chief minister -- Sonia Gandhi might well ask her colleagues to demonstrate 'solidarity' with the beleaguered K M Mani.

Mahatma Gandhi marched in 1930 to protest the British government's monopoly on the sale of salt, an issue that affected all Indians, particularly the poorest.

Sonia Gandhi marched in 2015 to demonstrate support for a man whose government presided over unprecedented corruption, losing money that might have gone to help the poorest.

The tale of the two marches -- the first exciting the admiration of the world, the second only attracting jeers and cynicism -- is the tale of the decline of the Congress. It will take more than empty symbolism to restore the Congress's lost lustre.

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T V R Shenoy