Has Rahul Seized The Political Initiative?

Pranab Mukherjee’s apprehensions clearly hinted at a possible political embarrassment for the Government. But the Government was still being slothful, not willing to stop in its tracks. The Opposition and the media were slamming the Government. The only option was a grand retreat… By scuttling an ordinance that lets off convicted MPs, against the backdrop of Lalu’s fodder scam case, Rahul Gandhi has seized the political initiative… scriptwriters say they badly want more such dramatic interventions from Rahul as the poll plot thickens…


has-rahul-seized-the-politiGood drama ought to be well scripted. So was the one that unfolded recently at Delhi’s Press Club. When the Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi barged into a press conference called by the party spokesman only to term his own Government’s decision “nonsense”, it was high drama even by Delhi standards.For once, the young Gandhi was seen to be snatching the initiative from his opponents. What remains unsaid is the planning that went into it. In fact, the only spontaneous thing about the whole affair was the Prime Minister’s palace drummers rushing in to turn it into a PM versus Rahul battle.
Interestingly, the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, at his recent Delhi rally, went out of his way to defend the Prime Minister against “the shehzada” or prince as Modi called Rahul. Modi’s attack is a measure of the success of Rahul’s intervention. Sure, the script has an old-versus-new storyline written into it. But it is much more than that. The Government was forcing the party into taking an indefensible position on the ordinance to let convicted Parliamentarians continue in office. It seemed oblivious to the change of urban public mood in the run-up to the polls in four States, including the city-State of Delhi.
The President, too, was worried about the prospect of the Supreme Court making adverse remarks about the ordinance or even striking it down. Pranab Mukherjee’s apprehensions clearly hinted at a possible political embarrassment for the Government. But the Government was still being slothful, not willing to stop in its tracks. The Opposition and the media were slamming the Government. The only option was a grand retreat. Rahul Gandhi even wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, who was in Washington. He waited a day for a reply. This was an opportunity for grandstanding. And Rahul seized it.

Inside Story
Though the Congress High Command is defined as the Gandhi parivar, not every decision the core group takes is Sonia Gandhi’s. The Congress President most often goes along with the majority view. Rahul Gandhi’s close aides explain that on the issue of the “Lalu Ordinance”, Sonia really did not have a strong opinion and merely went with the veterans. “Just because she was present at the Congress core group meeting that decided on the ordinance does not mean that she endorsed it. Even when she is driving a piece of legislation or an executive decision, she retracts when the Prime Minister or the veterans have a different view,” says a party insider.
There are other examples galore. Despite her best efforts Sonia could not get the Communal Violence Bill passed. Congress leaders close to Rahul insist that had that legislation been in place, the Muzaffarnagar riots would not have taken place. The accountability of the district magistrate and the superintendent of police was built into the proposed piece of legislation. But the Government shot it down. Social security for unauthorised workers was another measure that would have helped 20 crore people. Even the “implementation architecture” for this scheme was ready, but Sonia could not carry it through.
The first family’s deference to the Prime Minister and his Ministers in matters of policy and governance is often a cause for chagrin within the party. Many leaders feel that all that the party is left with to tom-tom during polls are social security measures like the employment guarantee and food security legislations pushed by the party, and all that the Government has to show are a clutch of financial scandals, corruption cases, inflation and instances of policy paralysis. An ordinance, bypassing Parliament, in times of grave trust deficit, intended to save corrupt politicians facing prison terms, is a classic example of the Manmohan Government’s political bankruptcy — an inability to gauge Lalu’s political significance, or lack of it.

Lalu Ordinance
The Prime Minister’s spin doctors now blow Lalu Prasad Yadav out of proportion into some sort of Congress messiah, happily forgetting that Lalu had humiliated Sonia Gandhi in the 2009 general elections, offering her just two out of 40 seats. Sonia declared that the party would contest alone and it did so, winning two seats on its own and losing the deposit in 30 out of the 37 seats it contested. “Why should Congress invite ridicule by securing anticipatory protection for a leader who never bothered about a long-term relationship in Bihar?” ask Congressmen. They point out that there was no real political expediency in helping out Lalu.
Worse, if Lalu is convicted in the fodder case by the CBI court in Ranchi – as has now happened, it could set off a chain of political events completely beyond Lalu’s control. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has been waiting for such an event and keeping the seats in the Government vacant in anticipation of a split in Lalu’s Rashtriya Janata Dal. If the former leader of the Opposition in the Bihar Assembly, Abdul Bari Siddiqui, splits the party and takes 10 or12 of the RJD’s 22 MLAs with him to join the Nitish Government, it can alter the contours of the electoral battle in 2014.
The Congress, even at its worst in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls and the 2010 Assembly polls, had about 8-10 per cent of the votes. The BJP, at its height, had just 13-15 per cent of the votes in Bihar, and Nitish cannot be faulted if he feels that a breakaway faction of the RJD and Congress could easily fill the void created by the BJP walking out of the alliance. Also, nobody is yet sure how a triangular contest will work in Bihar with the upper castes polarising towards the BJP and the Yadav voters remaining with the RJD. An out-of-power Lalu going to jail will surely weaken the RJD considerably and it will not be of much use to a weak Congress in Bihar. Its best bet is to hitch a ride with Nitish who is seeking to split the RJD and win over the Muslim vote.
Then, beyond the logic of electoral equations and numbers, there is urgent need for the Congress to build up its leader if he has to take on the Modi juggernaut. What better way to do it than to right the wrongs of his own party? The script was good and he played his part well. And the scriptwriters say they badly want more such dramatic interventions from Rahul as the poll plot thickens.
– The Hindu Business Line : Finally, a no-nonsense Rahul

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Lalu Sentencing A Huge Blow To RJD

At a time when the RJD was seemingly gaining ground it had lost in the State, the conviction – and jailing – of Lalu Prasad has come as a major setback to the party…

Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leaders admitted that their party’s future was at stake after a special court convicted its leader Lalu Prasad in the fodder scam. Party activists and leaders who spoke to IANS sounded upset and uncertain about the RJD’s future.Publicly, RJD leaders are putting up a brave face, saying the party was united. Some want Lalu Prasad’s wife and former Bihar chief minister Rabri Devi to lead them, and she will now be doing so.
“We know there is no alternate to Lalu but his popularity will increase now among his traditional supporters,” said a senior RJD leader, Veena Shahi. The situation on the ground seems different. After the special CBI court pronounces the quantum of punishment Thursday, Lalu Prasad is expected to lose his membership of Parliament. RJD activists fear that the Congress will now happily dump the RJD and go with Chief Minister and Janata Dal-United leader Nitish Kumar. “After conviction, Lalu is not in a position to claim to be main rival to Nitish Kumar,” another RJD leader said.In contrast, there is happiness in both the JD-U and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Nitish Kumar has refused to say anything on the verdict. “I don’t react to court verdicts.” BJP leaders have begun to eye Lalu’s support base, particularly the Yadavs who constitute over nine per cent of Bihar’s 105 million people. “Our party is the only force to gain (from this development),” BJP leader Giriraj Singh asserted. JD-U leaders hope that Muslims, who constitute 16.5 per cent of the population, will now be attracted towards their party, in part because of the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate — Narendra Modi.
– IANS

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