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What political vendetta! Congress looks more like a spoilt brat

Panini Anand | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 12:54 IST

Lost chance

  • The Congress could have cornered the govt on several issue
  • BJP was on backfoot on economy, Pakistan and Bihar debacle

Stupid choice

  • Congress decided to play the victim vis-a-vis the National Herald case
  • It now looks politically isolated and without public sympathy

More in the story

  • How sycophancy ruined the party\'s chance
  • What Congress should actually have done nevertheless

Amid all the hullabaloo over Goods and Services Tax (GST) let's rewind to February 2011. A headline from then reads: 'Amit Shah arrest prompting BJP to block GST: PM'. The PM then was Manmohan Singh, whose party is now the Opposition. And the GST debate is still on. Only the camps have changed.

How it played out

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Singh for 'chai pe charcha', it seemed the GST Bill would now have an easy road in Parliament. But the National Herald case has scuttled those hopes.

Ever since Sonia, Rahul Gandhi and other Congress functionaries were dragged to court, Congress parliamentarians have paralysed the House. If the impasse goes on there will be hardly any hope of GST being enacted even in this session.

Questions are now being raised on how sound is the Congress strategy. And who are the sailors who are steering India's Grand Old Party to this direction.

Indeed, Congress has completely miscalculated its moves, many observers feel. The government was on the backfoot on a number of issues. The state of the economy, the compromise with Pakistan, the dismal Bihar verdict dented the government's image.

All Congress needed to do was capitalise on these. All it did was replaced the real issues with the National Herald case. And all it achieved was to centrestage its own arrogance against the judiciary and Parliament.

The Delhi High Court dismissed the Gandhis' plea against trial court summons on Monday, 7 December. The next morning Congress went hammer and tong to bring the House down to its knees with protests inside Parliament and outside.

Where lies the fault

The party's strategists may have thought the issue would garner support from other Opposition parties, like it has been so often of late. But except Trinmool Congress, no other party really stood by it. Its poor tally in the Lok Sabha has ensured that Congress is now near-isolated in the House.

This has given Modi the opportunity to say "Democracy cannot function at the whims and fancies of anyone". Arun Jaitley, his finance minister, added: "India never accepted that the Queen is above Law."

The same is the impression among people. The party may have set out to play the victim, but now seems to be thinking itself as an entity above the law. Congress's strategy has boomeranged.

In the process, the party has also become a house divided. Many MPs don't agree with the way Congress is conducting itself in the House. "It's not about who stands for the family. It's more about what we would achieve," a senior leader said.

At a strategy meeting, all party MPs agreed that there should be strong protest against "political vendetta" in Parliament. Desperation to be seen more loyal to the family and personal aggression dominated the meeting. Rather than brainstorming on a more productive strategy, the party ended up like a "gang of knights all for the queen," said the leader.

Leaders like Ambika Soni, Kumari Sailja and Bhupinder Singh Hooda insisted on not allowing the House to function, a source said.

Ghulam Nabi Azad, leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha, was disrupted thrice in the meeting by Soni who reportedly said "those who want to let the house function, are against the Gandhis." Not that Ghulam Nabi disagreed, but many in the party felt loyalty towards the 'high command' should not dictate floor strategy.

Sources indicate that on 19 December the party leadership may not to actually challenge the court order, but it is already late. Congress may then still gain some sympathy, but should not hope for a high ground in the House anymore.

What should the party have done?

1. On Tuesday, when Sonia Gandhi said: "I am Indira Gandhi's daughter-in-law. I am not scared of anyone," the party should have left it that. Instead of dragging the court case into the House, Congress and the Gandhi family should have taken a high moral position.

2. Instead of sending out the message that the party was above law and court, the leaders should have simply announced that there was nothing wrong in what they did and not challenge the court orders at all.

3. The 'political vendetta against an ailing leader and her family' angle would have infused life into the vestigial party. Sonia or Rahul going to the court and, if need be, to jail could have brought party workers onto the streets, perhaps with slogans like "when those like Salman Khan and Amit Shah are free, we face victimisation for no misconduct".

4. The party could have registered a strong protest in the House and left it at that.

5. It needed to send a message that if opponents were trying to use power for sending the accused to jail without reason, so be it. The party could have given the impression that it respects rule of law and as ready to follow the path of Gandhi, Nehru and others by going to jail.

6. A day in jail for Rahul or Sonia would have set the stage on fire. And the NDA knows. There was a lot of uneasiness in the BJP when it seemed Singh could go to jail in connection with the 2G scam.

7. Instead of exaggerating the National Herald issue, Congress could have opted for strong and non-negotiable positions on GST, Union minister VK Singh and the government's Pakistan stand. They would have continued to enjoy the support of other opposition parties.

8. If the GST Bill was cleared with the government accepting all Congress suggestions, it would have been a victory for the party and then it could have played the victim card to say it took a positive stance despite 'political vendetta.'

For now, however, it will have to live with a lost opportunity until the next one comes along.

First published: 12 December 2015, 6:41 IST
Panini Anand @paninianand

Senior Assistant Editor at Catch, Panini is a poet, singer, cook, painter, commentator, traveller and photographer who has worked as reporter, producer and editor for organizations including BBC, Outlook and Rajya Sabha TV. An IIMC-New Delhi alumni who comes from Rae Bareli of UP, Panini is fond of the Ghats of Varanasi, Hindustani classical music, Awadhi biryani, Bob Marley and Pink Floyd, political talks and heritage walks. He has closely observed the mainstream national political parties, the Hindi belt politics along with many mass movements and campaigns in last two decades. He has experimented with many mass mediums: theatre, street plays and slum-based tabloids, wallpapers to online, TV, radio, photography and print.