Congress forced to fire fight during 2011

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New Delhi, Dec 25 : The baggage of a rash of scams and the civil society campaign besmirched the image of the Congress and the government at the Centre that both of them were forced to do fire fighting during most of 2011 that saw the government unable to push ahead with reforms.

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi's health she was out of the country for almost two months for treatment of an unstated ailment  was a cause of concern but by the year-end she showed signs of fighting back politically.

A four-member committee of senior leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, was put in charge of the affairs of the party in the Congress President's absence. By the end of the year, Rahul Gandhi was in-charge of the Congress election campaign in Uttar Pradesh where the party hopes to put on a good show and turn the tide in the new year after a year of bad tidings.

Rahul ensured an alliance with Ajit Singh's RLD which became the latest entrant in the UPA. The talk in Congress circles is of a possible post-poll tie-up with Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh if they can form a government.

Troubles began for the party with the end of Commonwealth Games, which sent Congress MP Suresh Kalmadi to jail, and the Adarsh housing scam in Mumbai in 2010 which claimed the Chief Ministership of Ashok Chavan. Then the infamous 2G scam that blotted the image of UPA government and the questions being raised over the actions of the then Finance Minister P Chidambaram continue to worry the party.

Except for the victory in the Assam Assembly polls for Except for the victory in the Assam Assembly polls for the third time in a row and riding piggyback on Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress to power in West Bengal, things did not go well for the Congress during the year that is coming to an end. Anna Hazare's anti-corruption movement, for all its disclaimers, provided a rallying point for anti-Congress parties to get together as elections in five states, including Uttar Pradesh, are around the corner early next year.

DMK chief M Karunanidhi, who was ruling Tamil Nadu in alliance with Congress lost power miserably and in neighbouring Puducherry, a breakaway Congress leader humbled the party.

The saving grace was Kerala where the Congress-led UDF won by a whisker. While former Telecom Minister A Raja lost his job last year, another DMK Minister Dayanidhi Maran had to quit on account of 2G scam.

Bogged by political problems, the Congress and the government headed by it had to eat the humble pie when it had to reverse the decision on FDI in multi-brand retail buffeted as they were by strong protests from opposition and allies, including the mercurial Mamata Banerjee. The UPA government also had to shelve its plan to push the Pension and Companies Bills.

The government was forced to bring a Lokpal Bill under threat of agitation by Anna Hazare's movement.

Government also brought in Sonia Gandhi's favourite measure Food Security bill, projected as the biggest experiment in the world of providing food security to the poor.

Congress MP Mani Shankar Aiyer, known for his outspokenness, downplayed the problems faced by the party in the year gone by dubbing it as a "mid-life crisis".

"We are coming to the end of a somewhat difficult year "We are coming to the end of a somewhat difficult year for the Congress.

It is not unusual for this kind of a midlife crisis to take place even for governments with a very large majority such as the one by Rajiv Gandhi, but even more so for a coalition government with difficult allies and a thin majority", he said.

Rejecting suggestions of the collapse of the government, he said there were still two and a half years ahead of the party to recover both the initiative and the momentum.

"And if we do not do it the fault will lie entirely with us because never in the history of Independent India have we had an opposition as incompetent as the present one", he said in an obvious reference to the BJP.

He was confident that the Congress will recover because "we have gravely missed" the leadership of Sonia Gandhi during crucial periods of 2011. NCP General Secretary D P Tripathi says that the Congress-led UPA has a bright future "if plurality, which is the essence of our coalition is respected by the leading party".

The NCP as also the Trinamool Congress have been demanding a formal or informal mechanism for consultations like the UPA Coordination Committee.

A Congress leader, on condition of anonymity, said that " the allies are a 'real pain in the neck', but for the record we have to call them 'valuable'.

As a political analyst put it: "It was a bumpy ride for the Congress and the government in 2011 as their plane was caught in an air pocket".

The New Year will reveal whether the journey becomes smooth and fast.

PTI

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