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Two mutually exclusive questions - The Financial Express

K Govindam Kutty ()
3 February 1997

Title : Two mutually exclusive questions
Author : K Govindam Kutty
Publication : The Financial Express
Date : February 3, 1997

Two old questions animate the current political gossip. Will the
Congress pull down the Gowda government? Is it going to ask for a
share in power? The questions are contradictory. If Gowda's
government falls, Congressmen can't join it. They will not by
themselves pull it down if they choose to join it. Yet both these
mutually exclusive questions rage leaving a fresh whirr of
contradiction in the political scene.

Whether the Congress will unmake the Gowda government for one
non-reason or another is a question being asked as a ritual ever
since that party decided to help Gowda make his government. The
question draws its relevance from two facts. One, the Congress is
strong enough to topple the applecart. Two, the party gets no
great mileage by propping it up. Its singular mission is not to
keep the BJP at bay. Nor is it to give Gowda immortality.

The Congress, quite understandably, wants to put itself back in
power. It has a lot of work to do before it achieves this goal.
It has to lift itself from a state of comparative irrelevance and
rebuild its eroded mass base in every part of the country. By
helping Gowda flourish, it can only push that goal still further
back. A sustainable alternative is not something it can promote.
Why should it ever give Gowda an air of sustainability?

The question has had a sharper note with every newly emerging issue
of contention between the Government and the principal party which
props it up from outside. When Congressmen at random or together
looked askance at some policy initiatives or pronouncements of the
Government, there was room for speculation or suspicion that
Gowda's end was near. When Narasimha Rao found himself being tied
in endless knots, he would have very much wanted to scare the
recalcitrant Government or even unmake it if possible. It proved,
in the event, to be impossible.

Rao's successor also has reason to be sore. It is no fun to answer
questions from CBI sleuths. It is tempting Sitaram Kesri to
conclude that CBI sleuths did what they did to soil his image and
force him into a defensive position, probably at the instance of
Prime Minister Gowda. A leader fighting charges of corruption,
however vague, cannot possibly find enough time or strength to work
for the dissolution of an inconvenient government. At least not on
that ugly score. Yet that CBI adventure has strengthened the
impression that Kesri may be in a mood to goad his party into
ditching Gowda.

Kesri may be willing to wound but is unable to strike. So new
reasons to strike are being invented. The latest reason is that
intelligence officers have been snooping around the Congress
headquarters. This is a silly reason because there is very little
intelligence to be gathered from there. There may or may not be
Machiavellian plans brewing in Congress minds but such plans are
not detected or foiled through surveillance of the AICC office by a
bunch of intelligence men. Congressmen who have made a big issue
of it are merely telling Gowda that they should not be taken for
granted. They know deep down their hearts that they can be.

Rajiv Gandhi had tried the same trick when he was sick of Chandra
Shekhar's motley government. It was swept away much like a
decomposed leaf on a funny and specious charge that one or two
heavy-footed cops were seen sauntering along the alleys near Rajiv
Gandhi's residence. Rajiv Gandhi could do that because the party
was not yet over. There was still a possibility that he could be
back on the centrestage of power all on his own. Not even in his
wildest dreams would Kesri hope that his party would do any better
in the next election than it did in the last, Which means it can
get little mileage by keeping Gowda's government alive and less by
killing it.

Why do Congressmen then keep floating rumours about a possible
collapse of the Government? It is no more than a cheap show. It
is a desperate attempt to make it appear that the party cannot be
taken for granted, that it is still strong enough to take decisions
on its own, that political initiative has not been snatched away
from it. This is a hopeless political condition: to find that its
initiative has been eroded and to feel at once the need to make it
appear that it still can call the shots.

When it comes to winning power, Congressmen are realists. They
recognise the reality that their future lies in aligning with one
united front or another, some partners of a front or some others.
Alone, Congressmen are doomed. That remains so even after the
great return of the Scindias, the Tiwaris and the Singhs to the
Congress. Those veterans have brought back to the party not many
more than themselves. Who does not know that they would not have
turned back if the pastures they had set out to seek were a shade
greener? They may be as anxious as anyone else to rejuvenate their
old party by snatching a berth in power by hook or by crook.

The main attribute of a Congressman is that he likes to be a
minister or, at least, a minister's minion. Since there is little
chance of the party winning an absolute majority in any election in
the near future, it is prudent not to wait to win any berth that
may be available. That explains the persisting gossip, though
contradictory, about the Congress joining the Gowda government.
There is an eminently valid argument in its favour. For the sake
of stability of the Government it has propped up, the party should
become its active partner. That is just what it did long ago when
it joined a communist-led ministry in Kerala. The argument then was
that communist hardliners led by E M S Namboodiripad had to be kept
at bay.

His party may now be embarrassed initially, only initially. For
one thing, it knows that the theory of "historic blunders" is
finding more and more silent acceptance among its ranks. For
another, there has to be a stable secular set-up to fight Hindu
revivalism. Once Harkishan Singh suitably brushes up his
dialectics for the occasion, Congress leaders will merely have to
bargain for the right berth.

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