In about a month from now, India will know who wins the elections to the new Assembly of Uttar Pradesh, the largest State, for which the election campaign is in full swing.
2.The elections will have a twofold significance from the point of view of the next elections to the Lok Sabha, the lower House of the Parliament, due in 2014. Firstly, they will show what impact the cascading allegations, disclosures and court judgements relating to large-scale corruption in the Government of India under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have had in strengthening negative voter perceptions regarding the Congress Party headed by Mrs.Sonia Gandhi.
3.Governmental corruption is not something new in the history of independent India. What is new is the metastasisation of this cancer across various sections of the Government of India, damaging the reputation of not only many senior Ministers, but also of Dr.Manmohan Singh. Dr.Singh’s reputation as an embodiment of honesty has taken a beating----not because there is any evidence of dishonesty against him, but because of the increasingly irrefutable evidence of ministerial misdeeds which he was unable to prevent.
4.More than his reputation for honesty, his reputation for good governance and effective and inspiring leadership has suffered severe damage. He failed to assert his leadership and authority as the Prime Minister of India for giving a clean administration to the country. That is the public perception, which is not far from the truth.
5.The failure of Dr.Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi to come to the forefront for addressing and removing the widespread suspicions and concerns of the public----particularly in the urban areas--- regarding the prevalence of corruption has added to the disenchantment of growing sections of the people against the Congress Party in general and the Government of Manmohan Singh in particular .
6.Is the public disenchantment a purely urban---if not metro--- phenomenon as believed by the Congress Party or is it a pan-Indian phenomenon extending right across urban and rural India as claimed by the opposition? That is the question to which the political class as a whole and public opinion are hoping to have an answer when the election results are out next month.
7. If the election results show that the disenchantment with the Congress is not confined to the urban areas, the chances of the Congress returning to power in New Delhi in the Lok Sabha elections of 2014 would be considerably reduced and the Congress will have to reconcile itself to a long period of exile from the seats of power in New Delhi.
8. The second reason for the significance of the UP elections is that they are expected to show whether the public disenchantment is confined to anger against the Congress Party only or has it also had a negative fall-out against what is projected by the opposition as the dynastic dominance of the Congress Party by Sonia Gandhi, her son Rahul Gandhi and charismatic daughter Priyanka.
9.It is accepted by many analysts that the Congress could not have won the elections of 2004 and 2009 but for the dynastic magic of the Gandhi family. It is a fact of life in Indian politics that the reputation of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi has had a strong attraction for large sections of the Indian people all over the country. The Congress Party has always faced serious allegations of large-scale corruption from the days of Nehru, but these allegations affected the party, but not the dynasty despite the attempts of the opposition and anti-dynasty elements to direct their charges against the family.
10.It is not without reason that the opposition is directing its fire as much against the Gandhi family as against the Government of Manmohan Singh. If the political landscape and the political equations are to be qualitatively changed, it is important for the opposition to undermine effectively the magical political image of the Gandhi family.
11. It required great courage on the part of Sonia Gandhi to have projected Rahul at this time of the badly dented image of the party as the future face of the Congress Party and India. It required equally great courage on the part of Rahul to have come forward to lead the electoral battle of the Congress in UP at this time of darkness for the party.
12.There is no question of the Congress winning the elections in UP. The best it can hope for is to increase the number of seats won by it in the Assembly. If it succeeds, it will give a headstart to the efforts of the family and the Party to project Rahul as the successor of Sonia in the Party and of Manmohan Singh in the Government. If it fails, Rahul’s credentials for assuming Party and Government leadership will be widely questioned thereby causing a setback---at least temporarily---to the plans for the dynastic succession.
13.The large number of right-wing Hindutva followers, who have succeeded in assuming control of the virtual political space by taking advantage of the Net inactivism of the Congress party and the Government, has mounted a highly personalised campaign through the Net against the Gandhi family in general and Rahul in particular.
14. They have been projecting Rahul as a leader of limited IQ and questionable capabilities who will be incapable of giving a new style of leadership and a new direction to the India of tomorrow. They have also been recycling and further disseminating allegations of corruption against the family.
15. The anti-Congress and the anti-Gandhi family political class is determined to see that the UP elections will cause a severe set-back to the Congress Party’s chances of coming back to power in 2014 and give a kiss of death to the dynastic hold in Indian politics.
16.Rahul may lack in other qualities, but he does not lack in political courage. Despite the risks involved, he has jumped into the electoral fray and has been bravely fighting the anti-Congress and anti-family forces.
17.Two factors will play an important role in the weeks to come. Firstly, the right-wing’s capture of the virtual political space will have very little impact in the rural areas. Secondly, the magic of the Congress might have diminished due to the sins of commission and omission of Manmohan Singh, but the magic of the family has not suffered an irreparable damage.
18. If Rahul can avert a humiliation of the party in the forthcoming polls, that could be an achievement indeed keeping alive the political hopes and aspirations of the Party.( 6-2-12)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: email@example.com. Twitter: SORBONNE75 )