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Why does the Congress have such a poor culture of accountability?

September 29, 2011 20:37 IST

It is Andhra Pradesh and not Uttar Pradesh which is the real litmus test for Rahul Gandhi's political leadership, says Shashi Shekhar.

The political intrigue at the highest levels of the United Progressive Alliance government over policymaking on the 2G spectrum issue has once again brought to the fore the poor political management skills of the Congress party.

At the time of writing of this column it is unclear if P Chidambaram would indeed step aside. The immediate political fallout from the 2G scam notwithstanding, the entire fracas raises serious questions on the level of trust between senior leaders of the United Progressive Alliance.

This lack of trust within the UPA leadership must not be analysed narrowly to be merely a conflict of egos or ambitions. This lack of trust is symptomatic of a deeper malaise within the Congress arising primarily from the dichotomy between politics and responsibility.

The blundering by the Congress over the Telangana issue best exemplifies this malaise. Consider this -- Andhra Pradesh sends the highest number of members of Parliament from the Congress. The Congress party in Andhra had a virtual lock on the state assembly after the 2009 election. Between the UPA government in Delhi and the Congress government in Hyderabad as far as the affairs of Andhra go, there was not even the usual excuse for political delinquency -- coalition compulsion.

Yet the Congress party blundered in its handling of Telangana, flip-flopped over political promises before and after successive elections to finally jeopardise governance in what should have been its flagship state.

Make no mistake, Andhra Pradesh is to the Congress what Gujarat is to the BJP in terms of being its political mainstay. In the past three decades with the exception of the Rajiv Gandhi government, the Congress has never managed to be in power in Delhi without a lock on Andhra Pradesh. What does it say of the average Congressman and -woman that they would forgive and tolerate a leadership that has jeopardised the party's situation in the one state that matters the most for the UPA?

The lack of trust between leaders of the UPA is a direct fallout of this culture of lack of political accountability. The dichotomy of power and responsibility between Racecourse Road and Janpath ironically reminds of a similar split between the real power centre and a notional government within our neighbour to our western border.

It is no coincidence that both that State and this government are living a lie to rationalise the state of denial they find themselves in. It is also no coincidence that such a continued drift while in denial has lead to an existential crisis to both.<

At a different time in the Congress party's history questions of this nature would have probably come from a Congress partisan lamenting the damage done by this separation of political power from the offices of responsibility. Matters have now come to such a pass that regrettably it is now up to Congress antagonists to hold up the mirror and show the partisans the truth.

The truth that in an environment of no political accountability nobody's interests will be secure, as the blundering over Telangana has come to show. Little wonder that in such an environment of insecurity, basic trust has become a scarce commodity at the highest levels of the UPA's leadership.

So where does the Congress as a party and the UPA as a government go from here?

The current UPA government has lost the moral fabric that once held it together. It is a matter time before its current avatar starts to disintegrate. Much faith has been invested in the multi-cornered Uttar Pradesh election next year to script the next version of a Congress-led government in Delhi.

The obsessive focus on Uttar Pradesh at the expense of utter delinquency in Andhra leads one to conclude that the Congress has come to view the outcome in Uttar Pradesh as a panacea to all its current political problems.

This has raised the stakes significantly for its future leader Rahul Gandhi. Stage-managed events and a servile media may have raised Rahul Gandhi's profile in Uttar Pradesh, it is an open question if UP will displace AP as the Congress's mainstay anytime soon.

The reality for Rahul Gandhi in other states is that his baby steps in ushering in accountability through inner-party democracy in the Youth Congress are likely to end up being a case of too little too late.

It is a stinging commentary on both Rahul Gandhi's leadership and the culture that has been fostered in the Congress party that despite all of his high-profile visits to non-descript corners of the country, no questions have been asked so far on why he has not visited Andhra Pradesh or Osmania University to face the Telangana conflict first hand?

Irrespective of whether P Chidambaram resigns or more skeletons tumble out on the 2G scam, the Congress cannot run away from its responsibility of securing its own base and interests in Andhra Pradesh. The least it can do to be truthful and sincere to its own partisans and foot soldiers would be for its leadership to risk unpleasantness and face the inevitable in Andhra Pradesh.

It is Andhra Pradesh and not Uttar Pradesh which is the real litmus test for Rahul Gandhi's political leadership. By outsourcing the resolution of the Telangana crisis to backroom operators and unelected bureaucrats, Rahul Gandhi has signaled what kind of leader he can at best be.

While this brings cheer to Congress antagonists, it is Congress partisans who need to be most concerned. Having lowered the bar on expectations from the leadership so much, they have jeopardised their own interests in their compulsion to make their leadership look good.

Shashi Shekhar is a social media commentator on Indian politics and public policy. His blog can be found at http://blog.offstumped.in

Shashi Shekhar