(Nalin S Kohli is spokesperson for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Director of the party's Public Policy Research Centre. He is also a lawyer and has extensive experience in media and education.)
Of late, the Congress party repeatedly finds itself in a piquant position when it comes to allegations about the functioning of its leadership. Post the May 2014 Parliament election results and the decimation of the Congress party 's electoral fortunes, what initially appeared as a murmur now seems to have evolved into a chorus of discontent against Mr Rahul Gandhi and his style of leadership.
Ironically, the charges levelled against Mr Gandhi are primarily emanating from within the Congress party. Over the past several months, the media has highlighted public comments by Congress leaders across the states of Kerala, Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir and now Tamil Nadu. Some of the adjectives used to describe Mr Rahul Gandhi are far from flattering. But the common thread of criticism binding these allegations point towards the functioning of an all-powerful and opaque coterie of advisors linked to the Congress Vice President.
Paradoxically, Mr Rahul Gandhi's track record in itself exacerbates the internal criticism he encounters. Stories about the lack of access to him, the supposed humiliation of senior leaders by his staff and above all, his assumed regular international travel dominate allegations heard in hushed whispers. He is known more for his absence. When he does appear, his public presence is mostly restricted to sporadic hyperbolic activism rather than consistent political activity.
The lack of an inspiring track record as Member of Parliament for over a decade does not help either. His inconsistent presence on an event-to-event basis adds credence to the charge that perhaps all this is curated primarily for the benefit of short-term photo and sound byte media coverage. The image of a reluctant prince forced into politics yet seeking the perks of power is a difficult one to dispel. Ms Natarajan's allegations indicate towards this as well. While an image buildup is no crime, it certainly cannot be an alternative to substance in thought and action. That in his case is yet to be conclusively seen.
The charges levelled by Ms Jayanthi Natarajan are not new. They resonate disturbingly about the exercise of extra-constitutional authority over the functioning of the erstwhile Congress UPA regime. In her letter to Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Ms Natarajan bluntly confirms this by stating "I received specific requests (which used to be directives for us) from Shri Rahul Gandhi and his office forwarding environmental concerns in some important areas and I took care to honour those requests." Her willingness for an investigation on the issues raised by her related to her tenure as Environment Minister cannot be discounted, even as the Congress dismisses it as motivated rhetoric.
The BJP has consistently highlighted the detrimental impact of an arrangement where the institution of the Prime Minister's Office was defanged of authority. The leadership of Congress President Ms Sonia Gandhi was made all-powerful through bodies such as the National Advisory Council. This divorcing of authority from responsibility is complete anathema about how a democratically-elected government is expected to function. That charge is now confirmed and substantiated by Ms Natarajan.
Unfortunately, what needs to be borne in mind is that the nation has paid a price for this political misadventure of extra-constitutional power. By the end of the UPA tenure, the paralysis of policies, ethical deficit, governance deficit, mega scams, crony capitalism, all became buzzwords of the day. The India story had all but become a nightmare. With the international media commenting on this towards the end of the UPA 2 tenure, the facade of feigned normalcy crumbled beyond geographical boundaries.
The vote of 2014 broke away from this legacy. It was a vote of change charged by the message and vision of Narendra Modi. Voters wanted to make a clean break from a duplicitous political pantomime played by the Congress leadership on the nation and on national socio-economic well being. The total impact has to be assessed.
It is in this context that the allegations raised by such Congress veterans such as Ms Natarajan require direct answers. In national interest, the Congress party cannot expect to get away lightly by presenting a theatrical defence questioning the very motive and timing behind Ms Natarajan's letter and allegations. Counter questions cannot obfuscate reality and culpability from providing honest answers.
Whether Ms Natarajan has been made a "scapegoat for the UPA's economic problems" or not can be judged only when the truth is out in the open. For that to happen, perhaps Mr Rahul Gandhi is the one who can answer best. Although, one should not be surprised if no answer will be forthcoming.
For the record, those who charge the BJP of trying to meddle in what appears to be an internal organisational matter of the Congress party, two counter-points may be worth bearing in mind. First of all, when the interests of millions have been adversely impacted through acts of omission and commission by the Congress leadership, the right to ask questions and seek valid answers cannot be abrogated.
Secondly, the BJP and its leadership have no interest of meddling in the internal affairs of the Congress party. On the contrary, we often bear the brunt of a charge levelled in jest - that our electoral goal of a "Congress Mukt Bharat" would be best served with Mr Rahul Gandhi steering the fortunes of the Congress party.
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