The CAG’s triple bouncer could not have come at a worse time for the Congress and the Manmohan Singh government — both already fighting wars on multiple fronts and lurching from crisis to crisis.
On Saturday, Congress managers tried hard to salvage the situation. They accused the official auditor of sensationalism and said its reports bristled with contradictions. But since the same drama was played out during the 2G mega scam — also outed by the CAG to a chorus of Congress protest — the reports this time became entirely believable. Not surprisingly, the Opposition saw the CAG verdict as having dealt a mortal blow to UPA-II, reinforcing the perception that it is a “corrupt” regime run by people obsessively engaged in the pursuit of ill-gotten wealth. The BJP rubbed it in: “This is not just a scam, it’s a case of murder and loot.”
A senior Congress functionary thus analysed the situation confronting the party and the government: “It was bad enough that the economy has taken a downturn with growth hitting the lowest point in a long time. Today we are faced with a social unrest that is frightening beyond words. Instead of appearing strong and in control, the government is looking more and more dysfunctional. It does not help us that the more we try to shake off the corruption charges, the more they seem to stick to us.”
Trouble has been raining in the Congress’s backyard. The party has as good as lost Andhra Pradesh, which delivered an electoral bounty in 2009, helping it cross the 200-mark in the Lok Sabha. The Congress made the most noise in Uttar Pradesh but finished last in the Assembly election. Indeed, with Assam on the boil and prospects in Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan looking none too good, there is currently not one State where the Congress can claim to be on firm ground.
The party has mismanaged its relations with the allies who are angry and sullen. The DMK feels neglected. The outsmarted Trinamool Congress is still seething over the presidential election fiasco. The NCP, which was a largely bankable ally, has been hurt over the way the Congress unilaterally decided on the number two slot in the Cabinet. Sharad Pawar, who had pitched in to help when Mulayam Singh and Mamata Banerjee jointly tripped up the Congress on the presidential election, is miffed that the Congress did not even think it fit to consult him on the appointment of the Prime Minister’s presumed second-in-command.
In the event the Congress fails to shore up its image, it could impact the cohesion of the UPA. After all, corruption has the potential to become an electoral hot-seller as indicated by the number of political parties that signed up to support Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare.