Barely hours from now, a theatrical performance with lowly production values will go on stage, as the curtain raises on what is being billed as a Cabinet reshuffle that will give the UPA government an image makeover. The musicians in the pit will thump and strum away in the hope of whipping up maximalist excitement among us audience. And in fact theatre critics who claim to have had a sneak peek behind the curtains claim that the new cast, with an emphasis on youthful vigour, will prove a smash hit.
Yet, not all the exertions of the orchestra and all the frenetic onstage strutting and fretting can mask the fact that this is a jaded show that’s been on the road a trifle too long.
There is a tiredness and a listlessness and a lifelessness that characterises the UPA government today, and its time-tested ruse of changing the optics as a substitute for achievement no longer gets it as much traction as it once did. Which is why today’s reshuffle fails to enthuse for anyone other than the diehard Congress party faithful.
Many names are being bandied about as likely candidates for induction or elevation. Still others have been subjected to clinical castration, and quietly dumped, but with the understanding that however lacklustre their record in office may have been – and however much they may have contributed to burnishing the UPA-2 government’s credentials as inarguably the most corrupt in India’s benighted history – there will always be other openings for them to continue to feed at the trough.
Already, Congress spinmeisters have had in recent days been constrained to put a valiant spin on the apparent failure to consummate what had for months now been projected as the imminent advent on stage of a ‘star performer’ in the form of Rahul Gandhi. Particularly after Law Minister Salman Khurshid, in a rare moment of political candour, had given public voice to the angst felt among large sections of the party that they were uninspired by Rahul Gandhi‘s “cameo roles” in politics and his now-you-see-him, now-you-don’t disappearing acts, the narrative that Rahul Gandhi would soon be taking on meatier political roles had been put out.
The yuvraj himself flitted briefly across television screens to suggest that, yes, he was ready to take on a “bigger role” in public life.
Speculation abounded that the ground was being prepared for him to take charge of a “big spend” Ministry – either Rural Development or a newly crated Ministry for Social Development – in either of which he could have showcased what can only been termed, based on his interventions in public policy, as an infinite capacity to throw good money after bad into mindless, ill-conceived welfare projects with infinitesimal gains in outcome but with enormous potential to reap the harvest of political goodwill.
But already that storyline is coming apart at the seams. Rahul Gandhi, we’re now told, will not be taking up a role in government, but be anointed working president of the Congress party, making him de facto No. 2, and work to rejuvenate the party in preparation for the next elections.
In the new narrative of myth-building, we’re told that Rahul Gandhi is “eyeing (a) long-term goal”: “to revive the (party) organisation” and “evolve strategies for the next election”. On Friday, at the latest round of strategy session, Rahul Gandhi evidently gave specific responsibilities to trusted aides like Digvijaya Singh, Janardhan Dwivedi and Jairam Ramesh to prepare for the 2014 elections.
Any strategy that rests on the surmise that the next elections will be held in 2014 automatically reveals its unsoundness. The straws in the political wind indicate that the UPA 2 government cannot meaningfully hope to keep its show on the road until then, and that we’re looking at elections as early as next years.
As Firstpost has noted earlier, the entire political dynamics will be dramatically altered on 20 December, when the results of the Assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat will come out. In a cruel twist of irony, the minority UPA government’s best hope of surviving on the artificial life support mechanism of whimsical political parties is that the BJP fares well in these elections and returns to power in both the States. The fear of a resurgent BJP will be sufficient to keep “secular” parties and the Left to keep administering the kiss of life to the UPA 2 government.
It now fairly certain that Rahul Gandhi won’t take up a ministerial appointment today; instead, he has been advancing the case of the so-called “Rahul boys” – other youthful and privileged dynasts in the Congress – who will apparently be given Cabinet postings so as to enhance their visibility and present a ‘youthful’ image of the government.
But as even columnists who are known for their political leanings in favour of the Congress are beginning to acknowledge, “changing faces isn’t enough. The Congress needs a personality makeover.”
In that sense, today’s Cabinet reshuffle will likely resemble a doll’s playhouse that the “youthful’ Rahul Gandhi can amuse himself with. The shuffle of warm bodies from Point A to Point B, of nobodies being shunted around to nowhere of importance, may count as activity, but it doesn’t make for gripping action. And as an exercise in reorienting the course of the UPA 2 ocean liner, it will likely prove entirely ineffectual.
The Titanic has struck an iceberg and is taking on water. And the ship’s captain and his underlings are busy arranging the deck chairs.