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Is the middle class moving away from Dr Singh?

Last updated on: May 12, 2011 12:43 IST

Why Karunanidhi should lose this election

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Sheela Bhatt
The assembly election results will not be a big help for the Congress in New Delhi because even if it wins impressively, it will still be considered a local win with the help of local issues. It will not help the Congress find an apt response to the question of corruption at the national level, says Sheela Bhatt 

Except Mamata Banerjee, all the political leaders and parties involved in the five assembly elections are either nervous (like Jayalalithaa), concerned (like the Congress), or petrified (like the Left parties) to face the verdict of May 13.

Actually, even many of us who were not voters in these elections have something to worry about.

Elections are essentially the Diwali of democracy. But, the sheer joy of democracy will be spoilt for the people if the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam wins in Tamil Nadu because then the awakening that has started against corruption in Indian society will get a setback. The moral message will be lost somewhere if voters, millions of them, still vote back the DMK to power disregarding the due judicial process against the shameful corruption of members of the DMK that is underway in various courts of law.

If, in spite of serious allegations of getting Rs 200 crore as bribe in their TV company from beneficiaries of the 2G spectrum scam, the Karunanidhi family and the DMK win again, then the people who are ridiculing the Anna Hazare movement and legal activism against corruption will have had the last laugh.

Also, it's very necessary that the DMK lose this time round because the people have seen nepotism's most ugly form in its power structure. Let the vote of 2011 be a vote against corruption, nepotism and dynastic politics in Tamil Nadu.

Whatever be the DMK's fate, the Congress is likely to do badly in Tamil Nadu. Here, the election campaign has shown that the Congress is a house divided. Home Minister P Chidambaram and his son Karthi, Minister of State G K Vasan and Congress president K V Thangkabalu are all pulling in different directions, demoralising the party cadres.

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Image: Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi. The sheer joy of democracy will be lost if he wins the elections
Photographs: Babu/Reuters
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How Achuthanandan outfoxed the Congress in Kerala

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Even if the Congress wins in Kerala, West Bengal and Assam, it is unlikely to benefit the party in a substantial way because the West Bengal election is all about Mamata. And if the Trinamool gets a simple majority of its own, then the Congress party will take a decade to get back its original space in the state because Mamata's stature will grow at the cost of the Congress's space. After burying the Left parties, Mamata will turn her energy against the Congress.

Many political observers in New Delhi say that with exit polls presenting Kerala as a dicey state for the Congress shows that the issue of corruption has reached the nooks and corners of India. Only last year it was almost taken for granted that the Congress will win handsomely from Kerala but Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan has played a great innings during the campaign. He was natural, pro-people, a great mimic, spirited and cunning. He didn't get discouraged by Christians backing the Congress or the Muslims being divided. He played the Ezhava card brilliantly because the Congress gave very few tickets to such a powerful caste bloc.

He brought into the limelight a decades-old corruption case and before the Congress leaders could pin him down for his administrative failures he took them on over the old issue and revived the many-years-old "corrupt image" of the Congress. He was a one-man army fighting the Congress. Even if he loses, his will be a heroic defeat. And, if he wins, three things are likely to happen.

One, it will almost wipe out the Congress from a position of power in all the southern states except Andhra Pradesh where Jagan Reddy has pushed it on the back foot.

Two, if the Left retains power in Kerala it will revive hopes for the Third Front, where Prakash Karat will seek an audience with Nitish Kumar as soon as he can.

Three, the Congress's image crisis would deepen. Opposition parties would say the corruption charge always sticks to the Congress. Also, the Congress's weakening position week after week will corrode the party from inside, which will show up in the general elections of 2014.

In fact, even if the Congress gains power in Kerala, West Bengal and Assam, corruption will remain the most important issue at the national level.

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Image: Kerala Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan has played a great innings during the election campaign

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Chidambaram makes for a poor alternative

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How will the Congress respond to the issue of corruption? Is its response adequate? Why do Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal and other ministers sound phoney when they are defending their government? What is the way out?

Achyut Yagnik, an astute observer of Congress politics, says, "The Congress is miserably failing to respond to the issue of corruption. People get the feeling that not enough is being done."

It is quite clear that although Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is not able to manage many issues to his party's satisfaction, he seems to bask in the TINA factor, at least for now. There doesn't seem to be an alternative to him. As Rahul Gandhi is on his own mission to reach out to the people, a weakened Singh is not facing any real intra-party competition. Congressmen who are dissatisfied with Dr Singh make faces when reporters ask them, "Is Chidambaram an alternative? Is he capable of earning Madame Gandhi's trust?'

Within the top brass of the Congress party, Chidambaram surely lacks support.

In fact, many Congress ministers have a story to share about their personal experience of Chidambaram's arrogance. The ambitious Chidambaram is working at cross purposes with the PM's agenda in improving relation with Pakistan, while Pranab Mukherjee and Chidambaram have nothing in common except their party.

The Congress party's biggest relief is that the Bharatiya Janata Party, as yet, is not geared up to become the smarter and better alternative with an honest commitment to fight corruption. Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa and Bellary's Reddy brothers have all the elements of a corrupt Congress or the DMK leaders being tried in various courts. Also, Congressmen remind us that they have three more years on hand before the general elections.

But, besides tackling corruption which has at last caught the people's imagination, Congressmen are also worried about judicial activism and want a serious debate over it.

A senior Congress leader asked, "Why should the Supreme Court cross the line and direct the government on administrative and policy issues?" This is a serious breach of the democratic arrangement among different pillars of Indian democracy, Congressmen argue. On the 2G spectrum scam case, the Hasan Ali case and many other matters of public interest, the judges' sharp comments against the government have been a matter of worry. In fact, the Supreme Court's acerbic comments over PJ Thomas's appointment as chief vigilance commissioner made Prime Minister Singh edgy. And it was Opposition leader Sushma Swaraj's tweet to close the matter helped him move on from the issue.

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Image: The ambitious P Chidambaram is working at cross purposes with the PM's agenda in improving relation with Pakistan, while Pranab Mukherjee and Chidambaram have nothing in common except their party
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters
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The middle class is breaking out of Dr Singh's spell

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But above all, it is becoming increasingly clear that the middle class voters who voted the United Progressive Alliance again to power in 2009 seem to be slowly breaking out of the spell of Dr Singh's economic miracles. There are many who find the CWG scam and the 2G spectrum case not just the doing of a Kalmadi or a Raja but due to the overlooking of such corruption by Dr Singh and the Congress party.

Crony capitalism these two words are now more in circulation than ever. The middle class has started complaining that a few got rich and richer while the benefits didn't percolate below. As the manufacturing sector lags behind, a few people have started worrying if 8 per cent GDP growth would slide to 7 pc. In fact, Anna Hazare's story at Jantar Mantar had only a one-line message: The middle class is speaking out against the government's lack of response against the cancer of corruption. The word 'corruption' has gained multiple meanings in India, now. 

It was argued with pride by Congressmen in 2009 that while the poor voted for the UPA due to the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the Right to Information Act and loan waivers of debt-ridden farmers, and the youth voted due to Rahul Gandhi's appeal, it was Dr Singh's confidence-raising promise of uninterrupted economic growth that gave hope to the urban middle class as evidenced from the BJP losing in all the metros.  

The assembly election will not be a big help for the Congress in New Delhi because even if it wins impressively, it will still be considered a local win with the help of local issues. It will not help the Congress find an apt response to the question of corruption at the national level.

The Congress has wrongly diagnosed its problem and sprung up with an answer: improve public relations!

Chidambaram has been appointed chairman of the group of ministers to brief the media to improve the government's PR.

Now, what do you do if even Congressmen find this a poor joke?


Photographs: Arko Datta/Reuters
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