Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Congress is still not attracting youth


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Anna’s fast may not arouse the earlier fervour

By Amulya Ganguli

So, there are no knights in shining armour. It all started with the Congress under attack for its suspected complicity in the scams and unwillingness to enact a strong Lokpal law. But, if a civil society group took the lead in articulating the public disquiet on this account, the reason was that the record of the principle opposition party, the BJP, was not lily-white either.

As the subsequent resignations of two of the party’s chief ministers, in Karnataka and Uttarakhand, showed, the BJP was no longer the party with a difference, but nearly as tainted as the Congress. That left only Anna Hazare and his crusaders as the only hope for a nation looking for heroes.

But, now, even this ray of light has been dimmed. As the latest rumpus in the Anna camp shows, its warriors will be more concerned in the foreseeable future clearing their names from the charge of less than honest behaviour than in pretending to be the unsullied standard-bearers of the second independence movement, as their propagandists claimed during the heyday of their movement.

There have been the customary routine denials, of course, by Anna’s men and women that there has been any wrongdoing. They have also asserted that all the monetary transactions of the non-government organizations run by them will be put on their websites. But, as one of their critics pointed during a television debate, the activities related to the Commonwealth Games were also on the website, but that didn’t help Suresh Kalmadi.

What is disheartening, however, about the revelation that the gods have clay feet is that it will foster further cynicism about the system. Those who believed that at last a group has appeared whose clean past enabled it to put a venal government to shame would become disillusioned about the avowed goal of cleansing the system. It is unlikely that another fast by Anna will arouse the same fervour if he is surrounded on the dais by those who are facing charges of dubious conduct.

Moreover, the fraying of his team will become obvious as some of the earlier supporters like Swami Agnivesh and Santosh Hegde drop out or appear less enthusiastic. It will also not be easy for Arvind Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan and Kiran Bedi to be as zestful as when the former police officer performed her celebrated ghunghat act on the stage.

Jayaprakash Narayan’s campaign against the Congress’s autocracy was crowned by the Janata Party’s 1977 victory, ridiculing the then Congress president, Devkanta Borooah’s sycophantic chant of “Indira is India, India is Indira”. However, Kiran Bedi’s cry of “Anna is India, India is Anna” will probably be falsified in the absence of any success at all. Even if the Congress loses in the next general election, or fares poorly, few will put it down to the Anna “effect”, especially after all that has happened.

It isn’t only the starry-eyed admirers of Anna who will feel lost, the BJP, and especially the RSS, will be equally flummoxed. The latter had believed that in view of the BJP’s less than glorious record for probity, it could bank on Anna to undercut the Congress. Even more than Anna, the RSS had appeared to have reposed considerable faith in Baba Ramdev’s endeavours if only because the Baba’s aura of Hinduism gelled with the RSS’s own outlook . Not surprisingly, Sadhvi Rithambara was among those who were present with the Baba on the stage at the Ramlila grounds. But, after the Baba botched his campaign by shedding his saffron robes and fleeing in a white salwar-kameez, the RSS turned to Anna again, claiming that it was its supporters who had swelled the crowds during the 12-day fast. However, Anna’s disinclination to acquire a political profile, especially of the saffron variety, has frustrated the RSS. The BJP is still sticking around, but its own internal problems caused by the number of its senior leaders who are apparently aspiring for the prime minister’s post has left it little time to formulate a viable strategy for the anti-corruption movement.

The Congress must be pleased with the discomfiture of its opponents. But the party will be fooling itself if it believes that the electorate will turn a blind eye to its suspected malfeasance simply because its adversaries have not measured up to popular expectations. It has to remember that in India, negative factors play a major role in elections. Voters tend to reject a party, as they did in West Bengal recently, even if they are not very sure how the newcomers will fare. The same response was seen at the national level in 1977 when the electorate simply threw out the Congress although it had no idea about the fledgling Janata Party. No one can say for certain that this will not happen again. (IPA Service)


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