The Congress rally at the capital’s Ramlila Maidan on Sunday may have momentarily captured headlines but it failed to provide answers to any of the several questions that have confronted the party for quite sometime now.
The historic venue for big-ticket political meetings in New Delhi has seen far bigger gatherings of humanity than the Congress chief ministers were able to muster on Sunday. Though every party unit was set a target to produce a certain number of attendees, the actual figure fell far short of the target. Expectedly, it was left to the Congress-controlled Haryana Government to produce a respectable number so that the vast ground could appear to be reasonably full. By tradition, successive Congress chief ministers in Haryana have commandeered rallyists on such occasions by ordering the local police to do the needful. This Sunday it was no different. Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda would expect a pat on the back from the Gandhis for the effort, especially when he had gone out of his way to allocate land and change its use most arbitrarily to benefit Robert Vadra and other realtors. However, if the objective of the rally was to rebut the charges of corruption and non-performance against the Congress-led UPA Government, it did not succeed. Yes, Sonia Gandhi read out what was dubbed by some pro-establishment elements as a combative speech. But what purpose is such a speech when all that it did was to skirt the real charges on account of which the Congress and the Manmohan Singh Government find themselves on the back foot. The Congress President did not refer to any of the corruption scandals. Instead, she sought to dismiss them all by accusing the Opposition of tarnishing the Congress’s image by calling it corrupt. Ordinary people, including those in the audience at the Ramilila Maidan, would have found her assertion laughable. For, the scams beginning with the 2-G, Commonwealth Games, ISRO, Adarash, Coal allocation, etc all, were not the handiwork of the Opposition. Then there were the Gandhi family scams of Robert Vadra and National Herald. Sonia Gandhi puts a low premium on the political intelligence of the `aam aadmi’ if she believes that by accusing the Opposition of corruption she could wipe her own slate clean of all the scams and wrong-doing. Again, making a pitch of FDI in multi-brand retail without convincing the people about its gains was empty rhetoric. She ought to know that there is more to economic reforms than the entry of Walmart and other western retail behemoths into India. That is not the panacea of our economic ills as the Congress megaphones would like us to believe.
Ironically, on the floor of Parliament senior leaders like Pranab Mukherjee and Priyaranjan Dasmunshi had most vehemently opposed FDI in multi-brand retail when the NDA Government had first toyed with the idea. The Prime Minister in his prepared speech defended the FDI in retail, without clarifying why he had failed to support the proposal when he was the leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha (where else?) when the NDA was in power. He too talked of defending tough economic decisions, while failing to see the contradiction in the proposed rollback of six LPG cylinders annually and of the marginal increase in the non-subsidized price of LPG cylinders. However, it was Rahul Gandhi who took the cake for making the most astounding remarks. It was sheer political immaturity to equate the Kargil War with the FDI in retail. He said that since the Congress Party had supported the Vajpayee Government in its effort to repulse the Pak aggression in Kargil, the BJP should support the UPA Government on the FDI in retail. Poor fellow, like his mother he should stick to a prepared script. Speaking extempore and then comparing chalk and cheese, apples and oranges makes him a laughable figure. Admittedly, the rally signaled an effort by the Congress Party to project that it was on the same page with the Government on FDI in retail and other economic reforms. The western influence in this regard on the Congress leadership cannot be completely ruled out; no less than the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had personally taken upon herself to have India open up to the likes of Walmart and other retail behemoths. Sunday’s rally is unlikely to change the political atmosphere in favour of the corruption-scarred ruling party. Nor is it likely to soften the Opposition stand on some of the controversial policies of the Government. However, to the extent a few diehard followers of the Congress Party felt enthused, it may indeed have served its limited purpose.