Special to Times of Oman
Poll fever has kicked in with full force, not the least in the Hindi-belt, with several parties engaging in no-holds-barred campaigns ahead of the poll which is hardly two months away. The party which is lagging behind is the ruling Congress which has, of late, been busy thinking up a way to get the presidential nod for its high-stakes anti-graft bills.
The Congress has failed to steamroller a clutch of anti-corruption bills — said to be dear to its vice-president Rahul Gandhi — through parliament for lack of sufficient time. These were bills, which if passed, would have been the saving grace for the government. Or so the party mandarins think. However, observers might not concur with this view. The reason: the people would naturally ask the party what it has been doing for the last ten years that it has been in power. Why, oh why, was this dash against time to turn them into laws?
Rahul, bless him, might have good intentions. But voters might see things differently. For one, Congress knows full well that it is well nigh impossible for it to get another term in office. So these anti-graft laws would have caught up with a BJP-led government or any other government formed post-poll. For another, these laws would have dialled down the severity of allegations of corruption being made by opposition parties.
But even this attempt to clutch at the last straw bombed out apparently due to the president's unwillingness to give his assent to these bills without proper debates in the two houses of parliament. So the ordinance route is now as good as dead in the water.
However, the UPA cabinet has finally acted to put the Jats in the OBC category that entails reservation for them in government jobs and education. The Jats have been demanding this for the last many years and the government has finally given the green light on the eve of the election in the hope that the move would translate into votes in some nine northern states. It is, however, another matter if the Congress would be able to influence the Jat community in any substantial manner as it is yet to tee off its poll campaigns in right earnest. As a matter of fact, it is far behind the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) or even the AAP (Aam Aadmi Party) in the campaign stakes.
Now that the president has showed Rahul's pet bills the red card even after much cajoling and coaxing, the Congress will finally be on the campaign trail seeking votes not just for passing the anti-graft bills but for extirpating corruption from the corridors of power. Unfortunately, the party has no locus standi to talk about rooting out corruption, itself having been burdened by a raft of scams such as the 2G, CWG, Adarsh flats, coal allocation and the like. If the Congress wants to tell the people that it should not be painted with a corruption brush as it had been weighed down by coalition compulsions — a mantra of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh — it won't wash.
On the growth front, the party has nothing much to write home about either. Whether it is global slowdown (as the government likes to say) or rank inefficiency and corruption, the fact remains that the country's economic growth, which stands at 4.7 per cent in the third quarter of the current financial year, leaves much to be desired.
So it would be amusing to see if the Congress leaders have anything to tom-tom about other than the RTI Act or the food security law or the 'adhaar' card, which is still dogged by controversy.
Campaign rallies apart, Congress has yet to make any real effort for coalition building, something which is crucial to achieve the magical figure of 272. Its potential partner, LJP, led by Ramvilas Paswan, has hitched his wagon to BJP's PM nominee Narendra Modi's star. This is despite the fact that Paswan had resigned from the BJP-led NDA government as minister in protest against the 2002 Gujarat riots which happened under the watch of Modi.
The Congress's seat arrangement with Lalu Prasad Yadav's RJD is pretty iffy as of now. Some see the Grand Old Party moving towards Nitish Kumar's JDU. But for this to happen, Bihar should be granted special-status with a full complement of tax concessions and grants.
The Congress, it seems, is a slow starter in both Bihar and Uttar Pradesh where over 120 seats are up for grabs. The BJP, on the other hand, is half way down its campaigns in both the states.
The author is freelance contributor based in India. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.