Indian Decade

Foot in Mouth Congress Party

A recent spat between Digvijay Singh and P. Chidambaram shows the discord in the Congress.

The Congress Party has often been decried for failing to encourage a diversity of views and for having little internal democracy. But over the past few months, there’s been a change in that image. And, unfortunately, it’s not necessarily been a change for the better.

A couple of months back, senior Congress Party member Digvijay Singh made news for calling Home Minister P. Chidambaram ‘intellectually arrogant’ in a newspaper article. Singh was referring to Chidambaram's approach to the Naxal problem, which is seen as out of step with the party line, and he also recently defended his statement in a TV interview.

This isn’t an isolated spat. For example, there’s also been a disagreement between Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh and Chidambaram, while a few weeks back there was a bit of political shadow boxing between the Planning Commission's Montek Singh Ahluwahlia, a political appointee, and Transport Minister Kamal Nath (Nath had suggested that the Planning Commission played only an ‘armchair’ role in policy).

While such a plethora of internal views frequently helps the Congress Party crush the opposition, it also leaves an impressions of discord. In fact, it’s often just downright embarrassing.

Take, for example, when senior Congress member Mani Shankar Aiyar blurted out last week that he'd be happy if the upcoming Commonwealth Games were ‘spoilt’. Aiyar, a former sports minister and once considered extremely close to the first family of the party, has been a vocal critic of India's bid for the Commonwealth Games. In a conversation with reporters outside parliament, Aiyar (in his trademark abrasively candid style) said: ‘Personally, I will be unhappy if the Commonwealth Games are successful. I’m very happy with the rains, firstly because it will ensure good agriculture for the country and secondly because it will ensure that the Commonwealth Games are spoilt.’

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The Commonwealth Games really can’t afford any more controversy, and when a well-known Congress minister holds forth like this, it does little but discredit the government further.

Of course that might not always be such a bad thing, and we certainly need people to speak up on issues. But Aiyar should understand timing is everything. In fact, I sometimes wonder whether such examples of foot in mouth disease aren’t part of a well-calibrated divide and rule strategy being pursued by the Gandhi dynasty. After all, it’s surely agreeable to their hold on power to have everyone else disagreeing, isn’t it?