I have been rubbing my eyes in astonishment at the spirited show put up by the Congress Party in recent months. It is frontally taking on all who cross its path, whether in Parliament or at the High Command level. Its sudden discovery of its guts is reminiscent of the famous battle cry (“Sock it to them!”) of US President Harry Truman, with which he made his opponents scatter in all directions and pulled off a landslide win in the 1948 election against the unanimous prediction of all sections of opinion in America and abroad that he was a goner. If there is indeed at work some such deliberate and planned tactics of going for the jugular of its critics by the Congress, then, to all appearances, the sole credit for it belongs to its President, Sonia Gandhi.

In retrospect, it is clear that the starting point of the new policy of offence as the best form of defence was when the Lok Sabha witnessed, for the first ever time, an entirely new Sonia, exploding in all her fury and gesticulating wildly, and forcing a visibly unnerved L. K. Advani retract his seeming aspersions on the legitimacy of the 2009 election.

Since then, there has been no looking back. Sonia has apparently infused the long-missing and much-needed fighting spirit into the Congress. She seems to have forged out of its previously passive and defensive echelons, both on the Parliamentary side and within the Party, an effective weapon for instant counter-attack whenever anyone exhibits the gumption to challenge the Party’s stances.

PROTECTIVE SHIELD

This new strategy of promptly trouncing the detractors has nowadays been constantly at play and is apparently helping the Congress tide over nasty situations, and even thrown its adversaries off their guard.

Take the allegations against Robert Vadra: In earlier times, they would have continued to reverberate endlessly, with the Congress chased from pillar to post and running for cover.

Not any more: All is quiet on that front. It is largely because of the protective shield provided by leaders at the various levels of the Party playing their parts on cue, and in perfect unison, that the matter has receded into the background. It is not inconceivable, looking at the mess Nitin Gadkari is in, that a Dirty Tricks Department has been set up and is working overtime within the Congress.

On the issue of corruption too, the Party has to an extent succeeded in carrying the war into the enemy’s camp. Its recent condemnations of the scourge are robust and vigorous. It has also been helped by the fact of the accusers merely churning up bazaar gossip and being so far unable to pin anything incontrovertible and specific on anybody within the Party.

On a substantive plane, the ‘big bang’ economic reforms that have been launched, with more promised, are also reflective of the face-lift that the Congress has undergone. The loud and clear message going forth to all corners of the political spectrum is that it will no longer allow itself to be pushed around by its coalition partners, but will assert itself, as the driver of the UPA, in whatever it considers itself to be in its own, and the Alliance’s, interest.

MOOD SWINGS

I would call the mammoth Congress rally held at the Ramlila Maidan on November 4 to enlist mass support for its policies, with the focus on FDI in retail, an inspired affirmation of the Party’s determination not to take anything lying down. I do not recall any occasion since she took over when I saw Sonia Gandhi in such convincing form and at her aggressive best.

So far so good. As Truman demonstrated, the public loves a feisty fighter who leaves punched noses and black eyes all around. If Sonia Gandhi manages to keep pumping heavy doses of adrenalin into the Congress in this way, it might even emerge with an absolute majority on its own, without being crippled by the mood swings of coalition partners.

But there is a big but. Spiritedness should go hand in hand with public-spiritedness. Which means during the next 20 months before the election, the Congress must strive hard to provide good, effective and clean governance and put through policies aimed at making the lives of the people hassle-free. Any alliance it forms should be on its terms.

(This article was published on November 6, 2012)
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