Rediff.com contributor Anita Katyal explains why the Congress is ill-equipped to battle the Narendra Modi government in the forthcoming Budget session of Parliament.
As the first Parliament budget session of the Modi-led National Democratic Alliance government is set to commence on July 7, the Congress is in the midst of a debate on how far it should go in opposing the new ruling alliance.
The Congress has already taken on the NDA government on a series of issues like Human Resource Development minister Smriti Irani’s educational qualifications, the power crisis in Delhi, the hike in rail fares, rising inflation and the rape charges against BJP minister Nihal Chand.
Unfortunately for the Congress, none of these issues have resonated with the people.
This is because the party’s credibility continues to be at an all-time low while the electorate is clearly in an indulgent mood as far as the NDA government is concerned.
The people are willing to give the ruling alliance space and time before they rush to pass judgment on its performance.
It is against this backdrop that a section of Congress leaders are suggesting that the opposition should lie low for at least six months before it starts attacking the NDA dispensation.
Several senior party leaders underlined that instead of going on the warpath, the Congress should utilise this time to put its own house in order.
A member of the Congress Working Committee told rediff.com that their party should first wait for the people to react to the Modi government’s unpopular decisions.
“It is quite obvious from Narendra Modi’s past record in Gujarat that he does not hesitate to take unpopular decisions and he is doing precisely that at the Centre” he said, adding that he is taking all these tough measures while the people are still favourably inclined towards the NDA government.
Agreeing that it is too early to start attacking the ruling alliance, another Congress leader said, “Looking at the recent spurt in prices of petrol and diesel, the rail fare hike and the spiraling costs of onions and sugar, people are bound to get disillusioned with the NDA government in the near future. People will then turn their backs on the BJP.”
While citing a host of issues which could work against the Modi government in the coming days, on Tuesday, the Congress drew solace from the attack mounted against the ruling alliance by Chief Justice of India RM Lodha on Tuesday for segregating former Solicitor General and senior lawyer Gopal Subramanium's case from among the nominees for appointment as Supreme Court judges.
A poor monsoon and a tough budget could also add to the Modi government’s woes, it is felt.
Citing the Congress party’s own experience, they said, people were so incensed with their government by the end of its second term that it was in no mood to listen to its list of achievements.
“The depth of their anger was unimaginable. The BJP did not defeat us… the people defeated us,” remarked another senior Congress leader.
However, this view is contested by another section in the party which believes the Congress should not wait for the electorate’s mood to change and should capture the opposition space by raising people’s issues at the earliest.
“We should play the role of an effective opposition party,” a senior Congress leader told rediff.com, adding that their party could not afford to sit back and wait for the tide to turn in its favour.
The Congress, said a former UPA minister, has to speak up for the people.
With assembly elections in Maharashtra, Haryana and Delhi coming up later this year, the Congress has to change the narrative from the anti-incumbency of its state governments to the failures of the central government, it is felt.
While the party has held a series of demonstrations in Delhi over the power crisis and hit the streets in Rajasthan to demand the removal of Nihal Chand from the council of ministers, the Congress is also gearing up to take on the Modi government in the coming Parliament session.
However, the Congress attack is unlikely to bother the BJP-led NDA government given its brute majority in the Lok Sabha and the divisions in Opposition ranks.
The Congress capacity to trouble the government is also limited by its depleted strength in the lower House where it has been reduced to a mere 44 members
Moreover, the churning triggered in the Congress after its shock defeat in the recent Lok Sabha polls has not subsided yet as the rank and file is still waiting for party leadership to undertake a serious introspection about its electoral performance and come up with a roadmap for the future.
While party cadres remain demoralised, out-of-turn statements by senior Congress leaders have only added to their confusion.
AICC general secretary Digvijaya Singh set the proverbial cat among the pigeons when he told a television channel in a recent interview that Rahul Gandhi is not a ruler by temperament.
Although Singh has subsequently clarified, the damage has been done.
Singh’s interview has only served to reinforce the public perception that Rahul does not have what it takes to lead a party or a government. This comes at a time when the cadres are looking for decisive leadership to show them the way ahead, which is sorely lacking.
Similarly, former defence minister A K Antony’s recent observation that the Congress lost out in the recent elections because questions were being raised about its approach to secularism.
According to the senior Congress leader, the party was perceived to be appeasing the minorities even though it has always stood for “equal justice for everyone”.
This, he said, had created doubts among the people about the Congress’s commitment to secularism and had resulted in the entry of communal forces in Kerala.
Given the growing doubts in the Congress about its leadership and its ideological moorings, it does not look as if the grand old party is equipped to battle the Modi government yet.