With the rally being held at Delhi’s Ramlila Ground in support of FDI and later the strategy declared at the Congress’ Surajkund meet, the message has been driven home that the Congress is bracing for deflating the pressures being mounted by the opposition parties over the issues of price rise and corruption. To put simply, the Congress seems to be keen on justifying its moves which have been dubbed as inflationary by the opposition and it is also expected that the government will try to convince the people to get ready for facing some more harsh measures to be taken for boosting the economy. However, all these won’t be easier as most of the Congress leaders are pressing the government to adhere to its populist policies. Congress chief Sonia Gandhi advised the ministers as well as the party leaders to improve the coordination among them and attach importance to grassroot workers of the party and dispel skepticism in the public about the government’s policies. This clearly reflects that the Congress-led government at the Centre has lost its connection with the people and the issues of price rise and allegations of corruption have become a major cause of concern for the party leadership. It is quite natural that the string of corruption cases and especially the expose by India Against Corruption (IAC) activist Arvind Kejriwal have disappointed both the Congress leaders and the party workers. With the allegations being leveled against BJP chief Nitin Gadkari by Kejriwal, the Congress has got relief as the main opposition party BJP has slipped into the crisis and the ruling party may fish in the troubled water.

Addressing the gathering at the Surajkund meet, party Chief Sonia Gandhi and general secretary Rahul Gandhi categorically said that the party workers should remain unfazed of these exposes, rather they should make people aware of the fact that credit to such exposes goes to the Right to Information Act which was enacted by the present the UPA regime. Undoubtedly, the UPA government deserves all kudos for bring in the RTI act which has not only ensured transparency in the government functioning, but also malafide intentions of the ministers and mandarins, however on this ground, the serious corruption cases which have been unveiled during the last three years cannot be overlooked. It is also a matter of grave concern that some school of thoughts has recently opined that some of the provisions of the RTI should be diluted. Though, it was finally decided not to tamper with the provisions of the law which is a welcome step and the credit for this goes to the Prime Minister besides Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi for not bowing before such pressures.

As far as the issue of coordination between the government and the party is concerned, it could be expected that there could be some improvement in this regard specially after the advice given by Sonia Gandhi. Given the challenges of the economy and the party’s concerns in the wake of upcoming elections, it seems a bit difficult. Even recently, both the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister have expressed their concerns about widening fiscal deficit. At this juncture, there is hardly any scope for pursuing populist agenda. It is surprising, when Sonia Gandhi was stressing for better coordination between the government and the party, Defence Minister AK Antony was raising questions on the government’s policies for the interests of common people especially the middle class. Voices were raised against capping the number of subsidised LPG cylinders at the Surajkund meet. Perhaps the party chief Sonia Gandhi has inferred that if the government bows down before the Congress leaders in this connection, it would highlight the loopholes in the economic policies. Whether the numbers of subsidised cylinders are six or nine, it won’t make any big difference on fiscal deficit but if the government backtracks its decisions, it will reflect that the party is overshadowing the government.

It is a fact that skyrocketing prices have badly hit the common people in the last three years and the government’s policies failed in curbing them effectively, but at the same time it is the government’s responsibility to make people understand that widening fiscal deficit would ultimately harm them. Higher interest rates have made the commodities of common use costlier. High interest rates are also responsible for the low industrial production which is also a potent reason for price hike. In this backdrop, the concerns expressed by the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister seem to be justified. It will be proper if the Congress agrees to stand by the government in this matter. The party’s pressure on the government in the name of getting relief for the inflation-inflicted people will not only raise the government’s economic challenges but it will also ultimately add to the woes of the people. The Congress Party should also not overlook the fact the international rating agencies are tended to lower the grade of Indian economy. If the fiscal deficit is not curbed, Indian economy too could slide into the same gloomy situation in the next one and a half year which is presently being faced by the European economies. Even today’s increasing fiscal deficit is also a result of the Congress’ populist policies at the cost of the health of the exchequer. During the last two years, the Congress failed to take such measures which were necessary to curb the fiscal deficit. Given this, the suggestion of a better coordination between the party and the government seems a bit strange. The Congress chief’s advice may sound well on idealistic grounds but it hardly seems plausible.

Clearly the Congress is eying at the next general elections and there is nothing wrong in this, but it cannot overlook the economic challenges. It will be interesting to see what emerges out of the next Congress brainstorming meet. Will there be any fundamental change in the perception and practice of both the party and the government? If the Congress continues to mount pressure on the government for pursuing populist agenda, it will not only prove the suggestions of Sonia Gandhi as hollow but also appear that the party is using the powers of the government for electoral gains.

(An original copy of the article published in Hindi on November 11, 2012 translated by the English Editorial. The author is Group Editor of Dainik Jagran)