Hindu Vivek Kendra
«« Back
HVK Archives: Why is the UF celebrating Congress' defeat?

Why is the UF celebrating Congress' defeat? - The Indian Express

Vijay Simha ()
12 February 1997

Title : Why is the UF celebrating Congress' defeat?
Author : Vijay Simha
Publication : The Indian Express
Date : February 12, 1997

Ironically, the 1997 Punjab Assembly elections, in which the United
Front (UF) and its biggest ally, the Congress, received a drubbing,
couldn't have come at a better time for the 13-party ruling
coalition. Though the performance at the hustings should be cause
for concern, it should surprise no one if the UF leaders are
actually gleeful.

For, the pathetic electoral performance of the Congress, CPI(M),
CPI, Janata Dal, Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Samajwadi Janata
Party (SJP), has, in fact, rid the UF of a huge and ongoing
headache. For some months now, Congress interim president Sitaram
Kesri has managed to sustain a level of enthusiasm in Congressmen,
and irritation in the UF circles, by the simple method of hinting
at a puffing down of the Union Government.

Smitten by the desire to become Prime Minister, Kesri was more
belligerent than necessary and often used words which meant nothing
eventually. And then came his theatrical moves like staying
publicly, away from Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda at the Ramadan
iftar parties. At least twice, Kesri snubbed Deve Gowda by not
acknowledging him in social gatherings. Or so Kesri thinks.

And now wisdom is slowly dawning. The UF, especially the Left
parties, consistently advised Deve Gowda not to take Kesri too
seriously and get on with the job at hand. There is still no
evidence to suggest that Deve Gowda is taking cognisance of it but
after the Punjab debacle, the Prime Minister should be able to
breathe easy.

As it happens. Kesri's first foray into an election as Congress
head has come to nought. The writing was on the wall ever since the
elections were announced but Kesri was perhaps the last one to read
it. All too soon the bravado is missing. Kesri, who was once
issuing ultimatums to the UF Government on a daily basis, now talks
of being ready 19 go to jail if necessary.

This when the CBI has merely questioned him on charges of financial
impropriety. The problem with the Congress is that in Kesri they
chose a man who had spent too long a time away from elections.
Clearly, Kesri is not the man to lead the struggling party in to

Skill in backroom politics is not necessarily commensurate with
ability to lead a party to victory in the elections. Often, the
gap is huge and insurmountable. In Indian politics it is perhaps
only the CPI(M) and the CPI whose organisational heads have minimal
exposure to mass elections. For instance, CPI(M) General Secretary
Harkishan Singh Surjeet was once an MLA from Punjab several years
ago. Likewise, CPI General Secretary A.B. Bardhan once represented
Nagpur in the Maharashtra Assembly but that was it.

Only, both Surjeet and Bardhan shrewdly let the leaders with
charisma, like Jyoti Basu and Indrajit Gupta, take the lead in
campaigning for their respective parties. Kesri is loathe to
follow suit. The result: an avoidable dominance of affairs where
the pros and cons finally rest on the Congress President's

This is fine as long as the going is good but in the current
scenario, any positive phase is usually short Wed with the bad
times shadowing the good ones. It should take some time before the
Congress President is confident enough to take on the United Front.
And that is the best possible news for the

Government at this point of time. Privately, UF leaders hardly gave
themselves a chance in the Punjab poll. The Janata Dal was in a
shambles in the State and the Left was struggling. The final tally
shows that for all its efforts the Left, indeed, the entire UF, has
but two MLAs in the Punjab Assembly. The CPI(M), whose General
Secretary belongs to Punjab, has drawn a blank after having
contested in 25 seats. This should lead to plenty of thought.
Maybe even some introspection.

But that will have to wait for a while as the UF basks in the
misery of Kesri. In the short while that he has been Congress
chief, Kesri failed in keeping Kanshi Ram's Bahujan Samaj Party
(BSP) within the fold and has now virtually gifted away Punjab for
at least five years. Buta Singh, the discredited former Union Home
Minister, has been defeated badly in Ropar.

Singh was one of the several Congressmen tainted in the Jain hawala
scandal and Kesri's policy of giving them tickets has backfired.
Former Environment Minister Kamal Nath may still end up a victor in
Chhindwara, Madhya Pradesh, but that should in no way lessen the
gravity of Kesri's mistakes. Naturally, all this must work in
favour of Deve Gowda and his team of advisers in the UF. Some
amount of bonhomie was on display last Sunday at the inauguration
of the UF Steering Committee's office at Akbar Road. The relative
ease and harmony among the normally squabbling UF leaders seemed to
have taken observers by surprise. It is just an indicator of
things to come, the UF feels.

Even a cursory look at Kesri's hand-picked team of advisors should
support that view. Tariq Anwar, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Balram Jakhar,
Meira Kumar and the rest are by no stretch of imagination a dynamic
team with visions of leading the country in this difficult hour.
P.V Narasimha Rao at least led the nation for a full term and
ushered in liberalisation. What Kesri plans to do is anybody's
guess. All we can be sure of at this moment is that Kesri hates
Deve Gowda's living in 7, Race Course Road. But that is no eason
for Deve Gowda to cede and let Kesri take his place.

Back                          Top

«« Back
  Search Articles
  Special Annoucements