May 10 was an extraordinary day in the history of India's oldest political party. While two of its lightweight ministers in charge of two heavyweight ministries were forced to resign under immense pressure created by other institutions of democracy for their alleged involvement in unethical practice, it appointed a senior politician as the chief minister of Karnataka where the party won a massive mandate a couple of days ago.
But why did the party allow itself to taste two opposite moods, one of happiness and the other of despair? Difficult to understand. But it can not be denied that the Pawan Bansal-Ashwani Kumar episode did an irrevocable damage to Singh's ‘honest' image, which has been his strongest defence against all odds.
The question is: How long can the Congress afford to continue with a prime minister who has clearly become a liability now.
But the writing was perhaps on the wall the moment the Congress had decided to go along with a weak candidate as its prime minister. The party had tried to execute a dual power-centre model after the philosopher in Sonia Gandhi decided not to become the PM and instead chose Manmohan Singh.
Manmohan's advantage became his disadvantage
The choice for the latter was encouraged by the fact that he was never a man known to indulge himself in petty politics in an otherwise faction-ridden party and besides, of course, he was a man known for his knowledge. The clean image had worked for him at that moment but prime ministership is something more than just a relation of patronage.
Outside the leader's shadow, Singh always struggled because his advantages then had played against him. The man, who was believed to be above factional feud, proved to be so detached from hard political practices and working relations in the party that he had little utility in effect.
Congress overestimated the dual power-centre
The Congress-led UPA perhaps took solace from the fact that a scattered opposition and vibrant economy would ensure a smooth run for the government and the dual power-centre would never be a problem. But it had perhaps predicted more return that what it had invested. The consequences began to show even before the UPA had entered halfway into it second regime. The economy found itself in the doldrums and the Opposition gained a voice.
The downgrading of the crucial institution of the prime minister's office had a disastrous consequence and it was lack of crisis management. The Congress leadership has not only fumbled to curb corruption but has also failed to handle any other issue meaningfully. Ad-hoc strategy making has been its priority, whether it is managing coalition partners or generating votes during elections.
That the PM remained a superficial figure with no proper grip on the party affairs and the traditional power-centre, which is the Gandhi family, getting considerably weakened meant that the Congress struggled to keep itself as a disciplined unit. It has been rocked by endless number of scams since early 2011 and the latest Bansal-Kumar episode could prove to be a decisive blow to Manmohan Singh as a politician.
Both Manmohan and Sonia have failed in key areas
Neither Manmohan Singh nor Sonia Gandhi have acted as adept politicians and it has been proved by the Congress's style of functioning over the last two-and-half years. Sonia Gandhi might have been a leader committed to an establishment which was once led by her in-laws but whether she had the managerial skill to settle issues, remains a big question. The Congress has clearly failed to manage the post-YSR Andhra Pradesh. Why?
And speaking about the prime minister, why does he fail to take a timely and decisive action every time his government lands in a crisis? Because of his detachment with the base? Why didn't he take a strong action against the two ministers soon after getting a massive mandate in Karnataka? Why did he allow the party to lose a golden opportunity to revive its battered image by dragging his feet over the question of corruption?
Why was the PM dragging his feet on the Bansal-Kumar episode? Why did he not think about his party?
It was shocking to see the ‘honest' PM refusing to act on corruption even after the Supreme Court of India and the CBI put his government's credibility under serious question. Why does it take the party chief to remind him of his Rajdharma after being pressurized by unhappy partymen?
The Congress has a serious identity crisis today. On one hand, the Gandhis have become considerably weaker and is unlikely to lead with the same authority of yesteryears while there is no non-Gandhi member capable of regenerating the party's good fortunes. Singh is not a P V Narasimha Rao.
A tough journey lies ahead of the Congress.