Factionalism is a part of democratic politics. When it increases in intensity, it is a good indicator of a government’s growing unpopularity. There is no doubt that, for some reason, governance seems a secondary agenda for the Bahuguna Government – the focus is on something else.
Looked at without sentiment, the Chief Minister failed to utilise the Kedarnath disaster as an opportunity to establish his credentials as a sensitive and caring politician. Whatever the actual performance of his government on the ground, he has been able to garner little credit. Mere reiteration of data and statistics has not accomplished much. Consider, instead, the manner in which Lt Gen Anil Chait could so easily communicate his and the Army’s regard for the disaster victims, thereby not only instilling hope but also raising the people’s morale.
How then can the Chief Minister hope to improve perceptions with regard to the far more difficult to establish achievements on the development front? In the ongoing power struggle, the latest report states that 22 Congress MLAs have sent a signed letter of support for him to the party High Command. With the already declared support of the PDF, he should be comfortably in charge. Then why the open declaration of candidature for the top job by Finance Minister Indira Hridayesh, or the ever persisting challenge from Union Minister Harish Rawat? As stated earlier, it is not enough to ‘manage’ things internally, the legislators are always concerned about public support and switch sides overnight. There is also the question of the coming Lok Sabha polls and it is important that perceptions improve between now and then. Those who will be standing for elections, and their supporters, are already facing anti-incumbency at the national level – unpopular local governance will make thing even worse. Things can get worse if the panchayat polls produce results similar to those for the municipalities!
The situation is made further difficult by the High Command’s dithering on the new State Party President. Who will lead the party into the polls? Has it been left to the party candidates to manage it by themselves? This would imply that there will be no surprises on the candidature, with those having deep pockets, caste and traditional support being fielded again. This would leave the party more open to being upset by the rising unconventional forces that are fired up by the increased levels of dissatisfaction among the people.
The sad truth is that grassroots politicians with the skill to lead the state are sorely lacking in the Congress. The only consolation has been the poor quality of competition offered by its rivals. All of this does not augur well for the people, who remain unhappy with the delivery of services, and cannot see any improvement in the future either.
The ruling faction will have to come up with better alternatives than just symptomatic relief in the form of ‘Cabinet’ decisions addressing the long list of pending demands. The trick is not to concede them when the agitations have caused political damage, but to do so at the psychologically appropriate moment. After all, that is what politics is all about. It is an art that cannot be inherited; it has to be learned through hard internship with the masters and springs from inherent talent.