Can Karunakaran do what others have failed to do?
Mr.K.Karunakaran,88,is an old Congress man of the vintage years.His best days were when he made himself an unapologetic courtier of the late Indira Gandhi when she rode to power.Later when she tried to consolidate her power by splitting the Congress party in 1969 and later when she tried to build the party out of the ahses as it were Karunakaran’s many taeltns came to the for.It was during these unsettled years Karunakaran proved an asset to Mrs. Gandhi.
I for myself very well remember the day when she came to Coimbatore,almost forlorn,without any followers and she had to spend a day by simply sitting it out in a textile research centre’s gust house and when she really didnt have anything to do,she was ferried to a local women’s college and had to spend time.She had no choice and she had no friends and no followers,except some local small-time politicians.The only one known face that of C.Subramaniam,a minister of long time in many Cabinets and yet he himself was a loner,having no following whatever.The textile city even then was a stronghold of the Congress of the Kamaraj camp and the others were leftists,the Communists and the Socialists whose antipathy to Mrs.Gandhi then was evident.
I was at the airport when Mrs.Gandhi arrived to made-up crowds’cheering widly and in the mad rush to catch the convoys I spotted K.Karunakaran,then the CM or out of power,I cant tell now,but he was there in the convoy trying to jump into one of the jeeps that were speeding up behind Mrs.Gandhi’s vehicle!
Karunakara was always a controversial politician,even in Kerala and also inside the Congress party.He is good in poltiical manouvering and thus he always was a useful man for Mrs.Gandhi in getting her dicatets carried out inside Kerala and to some extent outside too,mostly in the Souterhn states.
Karunakaran,as a typical Keralite started humbly,he was a cartoonist and,I believe ,a teacher of sorts and soon found himself in poltiics and what heights he reached are quite dizzy.He was Chief Minister,more than once and he was also a Union Minister and later was always engaged in many inner party affairs,he was always a member of the powerful Congress Working Committtee and thus,what people now remember about him is that he always promoted himself,his son and daughter.So,he seemed to be a true follower of the Nehgru-Gandhi dynasty model in fashoning himself as a serious Congressman.
Now,he fell out of Mrs.Sonia Gandhi’s favour when she didnt help him to oust his long time rival and the current Defence Miniser,A.K.Antony.So,he went out of the party and floated a rival outfit called Indira Congress Party.It didnt take off as expected ,given the extremely complex nature of the multi-layered and intensely competitive one-man parties that make up the Kerala Left-Right coalition parties and front.
So,he now jumped on the bandwagon floated by Sharad Pawar,the Maratha strongman,and leader of the rival Congress front,the Nationalist Congress Party(NCP).Pawar was always an ambitious man and he sought to become the Prime Minister more than once in his long career.
Now what makes Karunakaran who had visited Delhi after a long two year gap is the new friendship forged between the Maratha strongman and the Kerala war horse.
As I write Karunakaran is busy in New Delhi meeting all the ‘disgruntled’ Congressmen who feel they have been left out by Mrs.Sonia Gandhi coterie.
So,there is a new movement to bring in all the old Congressmen who feel they have a legtimate role to play in the Indian National Congress and so they have a case.
Considering the state of the present UPA government headed by Dr.Manmohan Singh,there is every reason to believe that the new move by the disgruntled Congressmen might bear fruit.
Why this is so?
One,the Congress party headed by Sonia Gandhi is extremely a patchwork party,no elections whatever,either for the Party President or the Members of the Working Committee or the All Indian Congress Committee(AICC)or the PCCs,the Pradesh Committees and the district committtes.
In fact,there is no token of inner party democracy.Of course no major party seems to have any such inner party democracy,though other parties might protest.BJP is surely is a party with strong contenders for top posts.In that sense there is a strong sense of a collegium in the BJP,there are some sort of elections and some additions and delitions of powerful persons,as demonstrated by Mr.Rajnath Singh,the current president of the BJP.As of other parties.the Communists always go by some routine like calling their Politbureau before they take any major decisions.
As for the smaller parties like the Dravidian parties too there are some pretentions of election.
In the Congress,the most important party with such a long history,the current practices within the party amount to a family coterie,not even a coterie,it is just a mother and son duo’s decisions on all major decisions.
The Working Committee members are all handpicked,they have no mass base back at home.As for the other orgains,less said the better.
As for the Prime Minister,the way he was “elected”was a mystery.He was put up just to circumvent the piquant situation that arose after Mrs.Gandhi was called upon to form the government and she couldnt do so,in spite of the fact she had the over-all majority.Several theories float.One is her nationality.Her citizenship rights are contested,though the Supreme Court had ruled in her favour in one case.There are,it seems,some other issues as well on this front.
Second,she was mortally afraid of her safety,given the strong emotional reaction from certain sections of the people,notably from the BJP and its allies.
Third, she opted out under the pretext of her”inner voice”which no serious politician believes.
Fourth,so she brought in Dr.Manmohan Singh who was all his life a bureaucrat and never a Congressman.Unless you take his new enrolment as a member or an enrolment he made when he was “elected”to the Rajya Sabha as a member.Even then,that was an embarrassment that he had to live with,that is,by declaring falsely that he was ordinarily a resident of Assam,when clearly he was not!
This embarrassment was removed only later when the Supreme Court ruled that the elections to the Rajya Sabaha on the lines they were conducted was alright,though there is a strong opinion the ruling of the top court was not in the true spirit of the basic structure(Federalism of the polity)of the Constitution.
Anyway,Dr.Singh as Prime Minister had created a problem.That was he never became fully integrated into the working of the government or the party of which he is a member.He remains aloof,almost uniterested,he is never forthcoming on any major issue or he conducts himself as a true statesman who goes out of his way to endear himself to the mass of the people.He never travels outside Delhi nor found visiting the distressed,one doesnt hear his voice at all when farmers commit suicides or when police firing on Orissa tribals or West Bengal Nandigram villagers and people die so pathetically!
The country’s Prime Minister shows he is least concerned.Anyway,that is the feeling he leaves in the minds of the traditional Congress workers and the leaders.
As for Mrs.Gandhi she too remains remote.She never visited her AICC office for once,the office is just next door.Nor she ever seems to bother about what is happening to the party in the states.
She trvavels to Chennai but she drives straight to DMK headquarters,she demonstratively avoids the PCC headquarters,the Satyamurthy Bhavan!What sort of party leader she makes?
So,there is a growing unrest and dissatisfaction within the Congress party.
To make Rahul Gandhi as the Prime Minister strsaightaway might be on her mind but no one seems to have any clue.Even if Rahul Gandhi takes over the party affairs or the governmental responsibility straightaway,it wont be an easy task.The party’s stakes are high.There is no guarantee the party will ever win a mjority on its own.Nor is there any clear prediction whether the Congress has any ideological commitment so as to retain the loyalty of the allies like the CPM or the DMK.
The current three year experience shows the allies bring more damage to the image of the Congress party by indulging in several questionable practices like taking an unhelpful stand against be,it Tamil Elam or the use of languages in the high courts etc.Or,as the CPM has done in Nandigram ,the police firing led to the isolation of the party and one doesnt know how far Congress can stand by the CPM when it comes to contesting the next elections.
In UP,the Congress party has taken a gamble and put Rahul Gandhi in the fornt line ,knowing well the youngman has a very unenviable situation.Everyone is predicting the complete washout of the party,given the nature of the various players,Mulayam Singh Yadav’sSamajwadhi Party,Mayawati’s BSP and ,BJP clear winners in their respective constituencies.
So,where does the Congress party go from here?
Clearly,there is every case for the genuine mass-based old style Congress leaders who feel now unwanted and if Karunakaran can bring about even some few faces together in a workable,fighting shape,the losers will be Sonia lackeys only.So much better for the country,feel the insiders even within Sonia’s circles.
After all,Cabinet Ministers like Shivraj Patil and Law Minister Bharadwaj and some others are deadweights and poor performers.They have no claim excpet their alleged loyalty to Sonia Gandhi.
Is it fair to burden the country and the people with such lightweights?The others who seem to be performers and clever,media-friendly,are either tainted or party defectors!Even the utility of the Prime Minister seems to have been becoming thin as days rolol out as the next elections looms large on the horizon.Obviously,the really committed and the emotionally bonded Copngressmen have been kept outside the gates,as if they are potential competitors!
Practically,the party has no fighting ideology or programme.No new ideas are forthcoming.
There is no sign of any genuine attempt on the party Mrs.Gandhi to reach out to the genuine Congressmen or the genuine natiuonalist forces,from far and wide.There seems to be no interest.Rather there is a plaint disinterest.
What more you need for a party to become directionless and wither away in the face of so many regional parties and aspirations.
The youth,more so the urban youth,the educated and well-employed in IT and other private sector companies,those in the upwardly mobile age-groups are all idealistic and aspirational and everyone likes to a good poltiician to possess some talent and capable of delivering on their promises.Looked at from this angle,we see that some of the new generation leaders,the ones from AP,Karnataka and even MP or Chattisgarh seem to be drawing some admiration.
Of course performers stand out as against non-performers.
Also any genuine democratic process brings forth some satisfaction in the larger sections Civil society groups are now more assertive and vociferous.The press is alert and the electronic media is always on the scene with its instant assessment of public opinion.There is now no room for sycophancy or coterie type poltiics winning public acclaim.
Poltiics in India has truly come of age and maturity.
Now,to come back to Karunakaran’s parleys,we can say he might have a fighting chance.We cant simply rule out his efforts.He had proved his manouvering capabilities when he loobied for P.V. Narasimha Rao as the Prime Ministerial candidate.There have always been trouble makers within the Congress coeterie.The Gandhi houshold has so many old time loyalists.They might still throwin their hats.But given such insiders like K.Natwar Singh and Bansilal and every other Congress leaders of some stature,there can be a change ,if men like Sharad Pawar makes a strong bid for power.
Pawar,given his monetary clout and friendships cutting across many parties,he,with the supportive power within even from inside the present Congress setup,they could cobble the numbers in their favour.
In politics everything counts.Perceptions,the moment and the very final cry!
At any rate,this time,it looks that Sonia Gandhi’s task is not cut out as clearly as it was.The Samajwadhi party is out,so too the MDK of Vaiko. Even Jayalalitha might back a man like Pawar,than a Sonia loyalist.In the extreme,the DMK migth ditch Mrs.Gandhi and go back to its original ally,the BJP!These parties have no commitment excpet to seek power at all costs.The present allies themselves might have their own calculations.
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