Back in 1967 when the Congress in Tamil Nadu was routed in the Assembly polls they never guessed that it would be a vanvas for ever. It was because they still had stalwarts like Kamaraj whose proven trump card was ideological integrity, probity in public life and unquestionable charisma. When it became “India for Indira” in 1971 Kamaraj realized his tactical blunder in grooming her for the top job against seniors on the assumption that it would buy the family’s loyalty to him. He was cast into the sidelines along with other senior leaders who were perceived to be “right-leaning” against the pro-left initiatives of Mrs. Gandhi. More, Kamaraj was relegated to a State leader and with the DMK split and the rise of the AIADMK his political space was further eroded. He stuck to his refrain that both were birds of the same feather but it fell on deaf ears. Subsequently in the bargain the Congress itself was badly downsized to being a hitchhiker to either of the two. The rest is its pathetic history.
Mr. Rahul Gandhi on the other day indirectly praised Jayalalitha Government to score brownie points over Modi and also to cement a possible understanding post-poll despite the fact that the strong lady of Tamil Nadu had no love lost for the Congress. He was aware that with the party losing ground nationally he had to secure its political space in the state to an extent. After all they had lost their bandwagon and the political ride with the DMK was as bumpy as it was with AIADMK before. It was also the rally where Mr.Chidambaram, G.K.Vasan and other seniors made their presence though their forthright invectives against Jayalalitha were well-known. Ms. Jayalalitha also wants to keep her options open. It is evident from her pitch that the Income tax limit be raised from Rs. 2 to 5 lakhs, a part of her national agenda.
But what the TN Congress is unable to live down is the fact that since the sixties on major policy initiatives – be it reservation, power distribution, Highway development and transport, welfare schemes – the two parties had stolen the thunder from them over a long period. They had to play second fiddle, look for political compromises and lose their base assiduously built by Kamaraj in his time. Not to mention, they had no leaders who could fairly come close to his stature and political acumen. Even Indira knew she had to play her cards well as a second rung party leader in Tamil Nadu, not from a position of strength. Little wonder the Congress has been reduced to being a faceless party in the state and Rahul Gandhi is making a last-ditch attempt to make it stand up. But is he equal to the task?
Nearly five decades had gone since Congress went out of power. Notwithstanding the political stranglehold of the DMK-AIADMK the State’s growth in terms of HDI has been impressive. Some experts are of the view that under Jayalalitha’s tenure stats on employment, health and per capita income may not be stellar but effective in terms of social justice. Though growth rate in 2012-13 dropped to 4.14 per cent in the state effective measures have been taken to curb infant mortality, improve gender ratio and literacy and IT exports in the decade have shown steady increase. The UPA explained away the drop in national growth rate attributing it to global slowdown but cannot wish away its fallout. While politically isolated in the state the Congress has been left with no stick to beat the ruling party with and its vote share has dwindled. It can only bank on the winnability of a few candidates in some constituencies from where they got elected earlier but not count on it either. No wonder Rahul Gandhi addressed a lone rally to buffet the sagging hopes of his cadres. Neither can they harp on the Kamaraj era as much water has flowed down since.
But he thinks he has his political calculus right by throwing a veiled word of praise for the Tamil Nadu model to extend an olive branch to the AIADMK supremo. A feeling of resignation at the last hurdle or fond hope?