Congress-BJP slugfest: duel with no winners (Comment)

By Amulya Ganguli, IANS
Saturday, January 15, 2011

As may be expected, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are targeting each other’s main weak spots in their current political confrontation, but their mutual vulnerabilities are making it some kind of dead heat.

While the BJP has had no difficulty in cornering the Congress on corruption, given the latter’s long flawed history going back to the Bofors howitzer scam of 1987 and even earlier, the Congress has hit back where the BJP is most susceptible - its anti-Muslim record.

To make matters worse for the saffron outfit, the present investigative focus on various terrorist outrages - Malegaon, Ajmer, Hyderabad and the Samjhaauta Express - is tending to show how the Sangh Parivar’s decades-old communalism has morphed into terrorism. There is a long way to go, of course, before the charges are proved, but in politics the innuendoes can often be as effective as the final verdict.

It is the same with the BJP’s allegations of corruption against the Congress. Again, it is not going to be any time soon that the charges against Andimuthu Raja, the telecom minister who had to resign because of his suspected involvement in the dubious 2G spectrum dealings, or against Suresh Kalmadi, chief of the organising committee of the scam-tainted Commonwealth Games, get a judicial stamp of authority. But that hasn’t stopped the BJP from creating an atmosphere where corruption is seen as the Congress’ middle name.

In addition, the fact that Congress president Sonia Gandhi called for the establishment of fast-track courts to tackle the questions of sleaze has confirmed the prevailing impression of widespread venality. So has her admission that the country’s “moral universe” is shrinking because of “graft” and “greed”.

The sudden resurrection of the Bofors episode with an income tax tribunal naming Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi as one of the beneficiaries of the kickbacks has also enabled the BJP to directly link Sonia Gandhi with the case.

Similarly, the Supreme court’s permission to the Kerala government to proceed against the chief vigilance commissioner, P.J. Thomas, in a 20-year-old scam is another setback to the Manmohan Singh government since it had cleared Thomas’ name for the post against the BJP’s objections.

However, the BJP’s own weaknesses are preventing it from emerging as a winner in this battle of painting its rival black. Its main disadvantage is that in the matter of corruption, it is hobbled by charges of nepotism faced by its chief minister in Karnataka, B.S. Yeddyurappa.

It is not only the latter’s less than lily-white reputation which is a millstone round the BJP’s neck. The allegations of illegal mining against the so-called Bellary brothers, Janardhana and Karunakara Reddy who are ministers in Karnataka, which has been substantiated by the Supreme Court, also weaken the BJP’s case against the Congress.

Unfortunately, the confrontation between the two parties is not confined to hurling accusations against each other but has led to the stalling of parliament by the BJP over its demand for instituting a joint parliamentary committee probe against the spectrum scandal. No business could be transacted during the entire winter session and there is a possibility of the BJP persisting with its disruptive tactics during the forthcoming budget session as well.

To pay the BJP back in its own coin, the Congress and its ally in Karnataka, the Janata Dal-Secular, has been refusing to let the state assembly conduct its business unless Yeddyurappa’s questionable land deals are debated.

As these tit-for-tat measures and the probes into the Congress’ corruption and the BJP’s terror links continue, it is becoming clear that the country is entering a phase of political negativism where wrestling in a mud pit will be the main occupation of the political parties at the expense of governance.

The scene will get murkier if the stalling of the budget session compels the government to call for a general election three years before the scheduled time. The BJP has declared the threat of an early poll as scare-mongering by the Congress. But it may be the only way out if parliament is not allowed to function for session after session.

That neither the Congress nor the BJP has the gumption to face the electorate is a deterrent where another election is concerned. But this unwillingness has not stopped the two parties from mutually paving the way to a debilitating stalemate even if both are seen as losers.

The tactical mistakes of the two parties are obvious. The BJP’s weakened position in the aftermath of the last general election made it seize upon the plethora of corruption charges against the Congress with such glee that it lost all sense of proportion when it refused to let parliament function.

The Congress, too, is banking on the terror charges against individuals associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which is the head of the Parivar, to bail it out of trouble by forcing the BJP and the Parivar to be defensive. But these are notional gains in a zero sum game.

(15.01.2011-Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at

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