Wake up prince

By: Imran Qureshi

Senior Congress leaders sound a warning note as India’s erstwhile first party is relegated to third place. The party needs to reinvent itself urgently

In the last few days, two senior leaders of India’s main but truncated opposition party, the Congress party, have made statements which, under normal circumstances, would have been considered blasphemous. One of them even went to the extent of prospecting that someday, somebody who does not belong to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty would take over and run the 129 year-old political monolith that has ruled India for the maximum number of years since Independence.

Political dynasties, whether at the national or regional levels, are more like the royalty. And, in the case of India, despite the terrible state that the Congress party finds itself in, it would have been unthinkable for anyone to make statements like the one mentioned above against the country’s first political family. The family’s ancestral history in power began with the first Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru whose daughter Indira Gandhi became the most powerful person in this part of the world before her assassination put her son Rajiv Gandhi in that seat.

Regardless of the stature that the former federal finance minister, Palaniappan Chidambaram, enjoys in the performance of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, his statement would have been looked at, negatively, and he would have faced party

action. Similar would have been the fate of the powerful Digvijaya Singh, who has taken on the party’s opponents, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), more adroitly than many others in his own party. Singh has, possibly, been more cautious in his remarks, but both of them have left none in doubt about what they think of the party leadership.

In simple terms, what Chidambaram and Singh are saying is that the party leadership, in other words, the mother-son duo of the Italian-born Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi need to urgently get out of their cocoons. They need to respond ‘urgently’, as Chidambaram put it, to lift the morale of the party that is at its lowest ebb. The former finance minister has even gone to the extent of saying in an interview to a television channel: “It so happens that he (Rahul Gandhi) is from that family but that doesn’t mean other younger leaders cannot emerge”.

The timing of their comments is critical. They come soon after the story of the May parliamentary elections was repeated in the elections to the state assemblies of Maharashtra in the west and Haryana in the north. Like in the general elections, when it was reduced to its lowest-ever number of 44 in a House of 543, the Congress occupied the third position in both the states. The second position, after the BJP single-handedly came to power for the first time, was taken away by regional parties. In Haryana, the top leader of the number two party is behind bars on charges of corruption.

These two states are only the latest in the long list of states where the Congress has lost power. In several other states, too, the party has been pushed to the third position because regional parties have occupied its space. It could be either because they were better at articulating the very same agenda of the Congress meant for the underprivileged sections of society or because of the follies of the national party. In most cases, the Congress has always hoped that some day the anti-incumbency against its main opponent would, finally, pave the way for its return to power. Like it has happened over the decades in the southern states of Kerala or Karnataka, where power has alternated every five years.

The most classic example of how easily the Congress has lost its space to a regional outfit is evident in Maharashtra. A party, which has repeatedly won in only the Muslim-dominated constituencies in the southern city of Hyderabad, has won two seats there. It calls itself the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul-Muslimeen or the AIMIM and its leaders have been arrested several times for some outrageously hurtful communal speeches. Now, this party has just taken over the vote bank of the Congress because of the latter’s inept handling of the concerns of the minority community.

At another level, the man who is supposed to be effectively leading the party, Rahul Gandhi, since his mother is keeping indifferent health, does the disappearing act more often than he appears in public. His lack of direction has left the party cadre disillusioned and its leaders confused. It has become so rudderless that for doing something as minimal as de-regulating diesel prices, a process which had been set into motion by the Congress-led UPA two years ago, the BJP-led government has taken credit. And, none from the Congress, barring Chidambaram, has even pointed it out.

The significance of the comments of Chidambaram and Singh may be indicative of the depressed state of mind that persists among some of the top leaders of the party. Such a mental state is ominous because in any democracy, it is important to have an effective opposition party, if not a recognised one in the House of the People, to keep the pressure on a ruling party to perform better. Despite all its faults, more often by default, the Congress still enjoys a voter support base ranging from 18 to 25 per cent, across the country. That is why even the critics of the Congress expect it to reinvent itself – for the sake of democracy.

Bad uncle

After the trauma of being sexually assaulted, anything else might be just a drop in the ocean as it is said. But, it still matters. A nursery student, all of 3 years and 10 months, was the latest victim of rape in Bangalore. Unlike the July incident, when a six year old student was the victim, the police was far more cautious in dealing with the child as well as the entire case. There were no arrests of innocent bystanders like the skating instructor in the July incident.

The most interesting aspect was that the child was dealt with by child psychiatrists to identify the ‘bad uncle’, as the little girl put it, instead of the customary questioning by a junior police officer followed by his/her senior and their colleagues and then by the doctors and then in open court before the lawyers and the judiciary. Even for adult victims of rape, the post-rape situation had always been described as more traumatic than the act of the rape. Fortunately, the police adopted a new procedure. The victim was taken to the magistrate for the recording of her statement as per the Criminal Procedure Code.

After such a recording before the magistrate, the child would not have to appear before any other court in the future nor before the police. This procedure was part of the protocol that was initiated by the child and adolescent psychiatry department of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) after the July incident. Being dealt with by a child psychiatrist at the very first instance means that the treatment of the victim begins forthwith as well as the forensic tools used in the counselling also helps in identifying the culprit. Hopefully, this will help in reducing the trauma of the victims in the long run.


The ruling BJP-led government has released the first set of names of persons who have stacked up ‘black money’ in banks abroad. One of them has clearly stated that he has no account abroad. The other, a mine operator, has insisted on wanting to see the affidavit submitted in the Supreme Court. The third one apparently opened an account in a foreign bank when he was abroad. He belongs to the Dabur group which also produces a health tonic which goes by the name of Chyawanprash.

The irrepressible senior journalist, Madhavan Narayanan, had an interesting tweet on the government’s grand disclosure: “Those black money names look pretty weak. Feed them some (Dabur) Chyawanprash.”