It is now clear that both the major parties – the Congress and theBharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – will approach the next general election with the ball and chain of corruption tied to their feet.
While the Congress has been weighed down by allegations of sleaze for more than a year, the BJP’s travails caused by the infamy of former Karnataka and Uttarakhand chief ministers B.S. Yeddyurappa and Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank have been aggravated by the latest charges against party president Nitin Gadkari.
What this means is that the electoral contest between the two parties will be on a level playing field where their tainted reputations are concerned. As a result, the conventional wisdom that the Congress – 206 Lok Sabha seats, 28.5 percent votes – will lose some ground while the BJP – 116 seats, 18.8 per cent votes – will gain only marginally is likely to be proved correct.
Since there is little that the Congress can do to refurbish its sullied image, it will have to bank on the Manmohan Singh government’s reforms initiatives to generate an atmosphere of hope in order to tilt the balance, even if slightly, in its favour. Aware that it had left the task of boosting the economy too late, the government will have to work overtime to inject a sense of buoyancy.
Its only advantage is the silence of the earlier critics of the reforms within and outside the party – the “socialists” in the Congress and Trinamool Congress among the allies – although the objections to a National Investment Board by environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan show that hurdles still remain.
However, the fact that the National Advisory Council led by Sonia Gandhi has withdrawn into the background is a sign that there is some a realisation of the harm which its left-of-centre outlook inflicted on the economy, hobbling the government and the party.
But, since an upswing in the economy will take time to manifest itself, notwithstanding favourable indications like an increase in the demand for housing and a rise in the number of people with “good” jobs, according to a Gallup poll, the Congress will have to work much harder to show its resolve to fight corruption – something which is not helped by the arrogance of its members, who threaten to break television cameras if they face inconvenient questions, as Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh did, or promise to write their political careers in blood, as law minister Salman Khurshid did.
The Congress’s only hope lies in the ever-deepening gloom in the BJP camp. It isn’t only that Gadkari has become embroiled in a scam of his own, there is every possibility that Yeddyurappa will strike out on his own by forming his own regional outfit. In that event, the pride which the BJP took in securing its first foothold south of the Vindhyas – albeit with some help from Janata Dal (Secular) – will be dashed.