Opportunity in a crisis

by May 13, 2020 0 comments

The Congress Party should give constructive cooperation to the Modi Government right nowand lead the Opposition, too

While there was disappointment within the Congress that interim president Sonia Gandhi was not very active and former chief Rahul Gandhi was indifferent to politics, the Covid-19 outbreak seems to have rectified that. Sonia and Rahul are being proactive again on the issues related to the Coronavirus pandemic and the Government’s handling of it. And their return to form has boosted the morale of the demoralised party workers.

 It may be recalled that in 2017, a day before handing over the reins of the Congress Party to her son Rahul, Sonia had said, “My role is to retire.” Sonia said she wanted to spend her retired life reading books and spending time with her family.

The Congress media cell chairman Randeep Singh Surjewala had tweeted at that time, “Sonia Gandhi has retired as president of the Indian National Congress and not from politics.” This proved to be true as the situation made it imperative for her to return as interim president in August 2019. Sonia has been playing an active role ever since she came back as interim president in August 2019, after Rahul resigned from his post as party chief, owning moral responsibility for the humiliating Lok Sabha election defeat.

 Sonia has always been a fighter and she has taken up the challenge of fighting the issues arising out of the Covid-19 outbreak, despite her health problems. She sent letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi supporting the countrywide lockdown announced by him and assured him that the party was with the Government in fighting against the pandemic. However, as the days passed and there was some disappointment over the Modi Government’s handling of the millions of migrant labourers left in the lurch by the sudden lockdown announcement and the suspense over the post-lockdown exit strategy, Sonia and Rahul got into action.

First of all, Sonia activated the party to fight the Coronavirus at the State-level. She also pushed the Congress Chief Ministers to provide succor to the needy. She involved senior party leaders in the initiative and held three Congress Working Committee meetings to discuss the party’s Covid-19 strategy. She also held a virtual meeting with Congress Chief Ministers last week. Sonia has been asking the Modi Government about its plans for the future. “After May 17, what? And after May 17, how? What criteria is the Union Government using to judge for how long the lockdown has to continue?”

Initially, on March 25, she wrote a letter extending support to the three-week lockdown imposed by the Centre. Then, on April 7, she came out with five suggestions, including scrapping of the central vista project, banning Government advertisements to the media, putting on hold official foreign trips and moving the PM careS fund to the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund and other austerity measures, in response to Modi’s telephone call to her asking for suggestions. On April 11, she formed a Covid-19 action committee for the party under the chairmanship of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and on April 13, she wrote a letter to Modi urging the Government to ensure that no one faces hunger during the lockdown necessitated by the country’s fight against the Coronavirus. Hours before the Prime Minister’s address to the nation Sonia sent a video message on April 14, “Today when the country is fighting such a huge battle, I want to assure you all that whether the Congress is in Government or in the Opposition, it is with you in this fight.” But the masterstroke came when she announced a week ago that the State Congress units would bear the cost of the train fare of the migrant workers heading back home. This forced the Modi Government to go back on its decision and allow the migrant labourers to travel on highly subsidised tickets.

Rahul is also actively supporting his mother, though he holds no official party position now. He is getting ready to take over the Congress once again. He has been quite visible on social media with his critical tweets. He believes that the Covid-19 situation is serious and the lockdown is only a “pause button.” He has suggested a nuanced approach to fight the pandemic. Rahul believes that India will lose if the Covid-19 fight is restricted to the PMO and has suggested decentralisation of power to the district level. He has held interactions with the Press and economic experts like former Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan and Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee about the economic strategy in the post-lockdown period. Every crisis presents an opportunity and the Coronavirus has given the Congress a huge opportunity to revive.The party should give constructive cooperation to the Modi Government. The Congress must also lead the Opposition but sadly, the Opposition is not united. Each party is going its own way and there is no combined strategy. Last week six Opposition leaders submitted a memorandum on the migrant labour problem to the President. The Congress, while uniting the party, should also try to unite the Opposition and try to bridge the leadership vacuum in Opposition ranks.

(Writer: Kalyani Shankar; Courtesy: The Pioneer)

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