Congress battered, government bruised

It has been a tumultuous week in Delhi, quite unlike the closing days of previous years in recent memory.

The Winter Session of Parliament invariably ends a couple of days before Christmas eve and Lutyens' Delhi wears a deserted and desolate look well before it's New Year's eve.

But for the reckless revelry of the nouveau riche and the occasional fog, life is quite tolerable this time of the year in the National Capital Region, or NCR as India's dust bowl is fashionably known.

This year has been an extraordinary exception. The Winter Session was extended well beyond Christmas till Thursday midnight, to be precise with the Government seemingly determined to secure Parliament's approval for the Lokpal Bill. Not many MPs were thrilled by the idea of an extended session, but a party whip is not to be trifled with. So they stayed on.

In hindsight, the Govern-ment could not have known that it would enter 2012 with a crushing defeat in both Houses of Parliament. Or else, it would not have insisted on the Lokpal Bill being debated and voted on right away.

Unless we are to believe (and there are many who insist we should) that such is the monumental incompetence of this Government that it failed to read the writing on the wall that was visible to all.  Others would say the UPA has been hoist by its own petard because of the limitless arrogance of its ministers.

Never before has a Constitution amendment bill been defeated in the Lok Sabha in so stunning a manner, with as many as 26 members of the Treasury benches doing a no-show and thus tilting the balance comprehensively in favour of the Opposition on Tuesday night. Nor has a Government ever turned tail and fled without putting a Bill to vote as it did in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday night.

Rahul Gandhi's promised 'game-changer' has proved to be an unmitigated disaster for both the Congress and the UPA. The proposed Lokpal will not be getting constitutional status. But that's the least of the humiliations heaped on the Government. The future of the Lokpal Bill that it had grandly promised before the end of the Winter Session now appears bleak after Thursday's debacle in the Rajya Sabha.

True, the Government has pledged to revive the bill when Parliament convenes for the Budget Session. But that's nearly two months away. A week, as those of us who have an intimate knowledge of what transpires behind shuttered doors in the drawing rooms of Lutyens' Delhi would readily vouch for, is a long time in politics. Only a fool would hazard a guess on the shape of events two months hence.

The usual suspects who comprise Delhi's know-all commentariat will no doubt come up with several long-winded explanations and bizarre conspiracy theories for what went wrong and offer blather as insightful analysis. But what appear to be complex political events often have a simple explanation.

The Congress lost the plot this week because of its arrogance. Had it preferred humility, even of the ersatz variety, it might have succeeded in preventing a total loss of face in so abject a manner.

It chose not to. In the process, it has denuded the Government it heads of whatever little executive authority and political credibility it had managed to cling on to, having lost most of both in the past two-and-a-half years. The UPA's dignity now lies in tatters.

That's only to be expected. A Government exercises its prerogative to assert its authority and bolster its credibility. On Thursday night, minutes before midnight, we witnessed the astounding sight of the Government, at the behest of the Congress, exercising its prerogative to shamefully admit it commands neither authority nor credibility, not even over and among those who comprise the UPA.
Spin-masters, spokespersons and apologists will no doubt argue that the Government had no other choice but to stall voting on the Lokpal Bill in view of the Opposition forging a grand alliance and roping in the Congress's key ally, the Trinamool Congress, to stack up a majority in its favour. But that would be disingenuous.

A Government anchored in political courage and moral conviction would rather lose power than compromise with what it believes in. Had this Government not been politically bankrupt and morally decrepit it would have put the Lokpal Bill to vote and braved defeat. Instead, it fled the battlefield without joining battle.

Arrogance, it merits reiteration, is not necessarily an attribute of the strong, just as the weak are not always timid. Why else would the Congress suffer ignominy on such scale and leave the Government battered, bruised and beaten?

The writer is a journalist, political analyst and activist

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