Bluster must come naturally to those sinking deeper and deeper into helplessness. Sunday’s Congress rally in the Capital showcased an organisation desperately trying to spin its way out of multiple adversity. The Congress was accused of forcing its economic reforms package — including foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail — on an unwilling nation. In answer, the party which once spoke of the ‘aam aadmi,’ flexed its reform muscles for all to see: Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and son Rahul cheered the package, promised more action of the same kind, and asked Congresspersons not to be apologetic about the new charter. Confronted with a do or die situation, party and government have clearly decided on offence as the best defence. From battling cascading corruption charges through losing the Trinamool Congress as an alliance partner to posting unremarkable electoral performances, not to mention being accused of policy paralysis, it’s been a blizzard of bad news for the leader of UPA-II. Accusations hurled at the once feted pair of Dr. Singh and Ms Gandhi have cut too close to the bone. The Prime Minister has been targeted for the coal scam, while Ms Gandhi has been left deeply embarrassed by the unexplained riches of son-in-law Robert Vadra.

In the event, the burst of aggression seen over the past month, starting with the unilateral announcement of FDI in multi-brand retail and climaxing in the rally, is less a sign of real confidence than bravado of a regime increasingly unsure of winning the next election. That the Congress has launched Rahul as its bright new face against this background speaks even less of its wisdom. The Congress’s aam aadmi slogan worked brilliantly in 2004. The coinage shred to ribbons the Bharatiya Janata Party’s claim that India shone for all. Eight years on, the Congress finds itself saddled with the same misplaced, out-of-sync-with-reality optimism about the state of the economy that cost the BJP so dear at the hustings. The irony is compounded by Mr. Vadra’s wisecrack description of the aam aadmi, pointing fingers at his enormous land holdings, as “mango people (living) in a banana republic.” The younger Gandhi must ask himself if he is ready to ride into Elections 2014 with economic reforms as the party’s platform. The question becomes unavoidable because the Congress is still dining out on the string of rights-based legislation it unveiled as part of UPA-I. The same card cannot work thrice in succession, especially given that the rights laws have begun to yield less and less. Today’s reality is back-breaking inflation for the poor contrasted by the accumulation of wealth and assets — including land — by the rich. While it is easy to be delusional, the Congress must remember it has not had a single convincing Assembly election victory since it won the big battle in 2009.

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