Scams, terror, economic woes: Who will take over from the Congress?

Last Updated: Thu, Aug 30, 2012 03:51 hrs

Now that we know Ajmal Amir Kasab, lone-surviving terrorist from 26/11, household name, consumer of chicken biryani, occupant of a prison cell at a cost of close to Rs 50 crore of taxpayers’ money by some estimates, will be hanged, we can tick one item off the UPA’s to-do-list.

Of course, explaining Coalgate – which has enlarged the Congress’ world of cares – and burrowing its way out of the 2G scam could turn out to be a little more difficult than convincing a series of courts that a terrorist deserves death.

In the two terms that the UPA has been in power, the price of petrol has more than doubled, food inflation has spiked, the country has been through recession; scam after scam – cash-for-votes, 2G, Colagate – has sent Congressmen scurrying in search of loopholes; and the country has been through a spate of terror attacks.

Even as the Supreme Court indicts the media for its role in exacerbating the Mumbai terror attack, in its verdict against Kasab’s appeal (See pages 245-249 of the full order), those of us who watched in disgust remember all too vividly the sight of then Home Minister Shivraj Patil rattling off deployment figures and the plan of attack on live television.

If the UPA’s last term was marked by terror attacks, its current stint will be remembered for the scams, communal unrest, and most of all, for the clampdown on freedom of speech. Political cartoons are being wiped off textbooks; websites are being banned; ‘objectionable’ content is being removed from social networks; and people are being arrested for caricaturing Bengal’s Big Sister.

With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh looking increasingly despondent every time he faces the cameras or stands up to speak in the Lok Sabha, and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi being hampered first by her “inner voice” and now by what the media has only termed her “mysterious illness”, the Congress has been trying to sound gung-ho about its “young” heir-in-waiting, Rahul Gandhi.

Aside from his numerous faux pas, the 42-year-old Rahul Gandhi is best known for regularly camping at Dalit houses and cutting into their limited food supply. He hasn’t handled a ministerial portfolio, and his crowning achievement could be breaking his considerable security cordon to mingle more freely with the crowd.

But unless an alternative presents itself, the UPA could be back in power in 2013, despite all the charges of corruption against it. And its leadership, and thus the Prime Ministerial berth, could be inherited by Rahul Gandhi.

What is the alternative? For decades, it was the BJP. However, in the absence of the liberal, poetic Atal Bihari Vajpayee, it has only been able to present us with two options – the once-fiery, octogenarian L K Advani, who now rides motorised chariots across the country; and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, on whose watch the Godhra riots broke out.

With the smaller parties waiting for whatever carrots the big names can throw at them, alliances have been more unstable than is usual in politics.

The antics of Team Anna – or should we call them Party Anna? – and Baba Ramdev have become fillers on newspaper front and middle pages. There is no Lokpal in sight, and the question of black money stashed away in Swiss Banks has become a conversation-starter.

What are we looking at, then, the next time we head to the voting booths? While we tweet about Emergency 2012, do we really have a powerful enough bloc in place to edge out the UPA? And if we were to vote against the stable mix of “economic growth” and rampant corruption, how much of a risk would we be taking?

While talk of a Third Front has cropped up every now and again, there’s so much infighting within the parties concerned that it’s rather difficult to fathom a delegation from each sitting down to formulate a gameplan.

What it boils down to, then, is that the Congress has complete control over what goes on in the nation, what with a party man having taken over the supposedly impartial office of President, and could continue to exercise this control for several years more.

Maybe we should stop agonising over why a country of over a billion people can’t win more than six medals in the Olympics, and start thinking about why we can’t produce a leader who doesn’t perpetrate or facilitate corruption.

More by the same author:

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Independence Day: Haunted by disillusionment

Are we raising brats?

Train fire: When populism gets dangerous

Dear Oprah: My suggestions for your next India trip

Sarabjit case: When the media causes heartbreak

The author is a writer based in Chennai.

She blogs at corruption.