India Insight

Congress’ 2007 leadership whispers underscore 2011 election dangers

Rumblings within the ruling Congress party that suggested the “jettison” of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after the party’s electoral failures in state elections in 2007, cited in a secret diplomatic cable published on Monday, are a timely reminder of the dangerous implications of failure for Congress in elections this month.

India's ruling Congress party president Sonia Gandhi watched by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (L) fills nomination papers seeking to retain her post as the party chief at her residence in New Delhi September 2, 2010. REUTERS/B Mathur

The electorates of Assam, Kerala, Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal will go the polls this month to elect new state legislatures, in the first tests of public confidence in India’s ruling party that has been implicated in a string of multi-billion-dollar corruption scandals over the past nine months.

Singh, a 78-year-old technocrat and economic reformist, had his leadership questioned by senior aides to Congress President Sonia Gandhi, who mooted a more politically sellable replacement following electoral defeats in Punjab and Uttarakhand, detailed a U.S. state department cable accessed by WikiLeaks and published by The Hindu newspaper.

The Prime Minister, who has seen his previously impeccable reputation tarnished by a number of government scams committed on his watch over the past nine months, may find himself under similar pressure from the party’s “old guard” — the socialist bloc more closely aligned with the party’s left-leaning past — should Congress stumble in the upcoming elections.

“Following a string of recent local-level electoral defeats in Mumbai, Uttarakhand, and Punjab, Sonia Gandhi and her personal advisors are very concerned that the impending Uttar Pradesh elections will turn out horribly for Congress. As a result, some are advocating that she jettison Prime Minister Singh… and put a more saleable political face at the head of the government,” wrote the U.S. embassy’s Charge D’Affaires Geoffrey Pyatt in the secret cable.

An establishment stirred, but not shaken? The “G-14″ rails against corruption in India

Sajja Murli Chaudhary, 45, an employee of a telecom operator takes part in a silent protest against the telecom corruption scandal in New Delhi December 9, 2010. REUTERS/Parivartan Sharma/Files
An open letter from a group of 14 eminent citizens, quickly labelled the “G-14″ and blaming corruption as one of the biggest threats to India’s growth story, may be a case of a glass half empty, half full.

The letter was signed by leading industry figures, including Azim Premji, head of software giant Wipro, the chiefs of vehicle maker Mahindra & Mahindra, the HDFC mortgage lender and ICICI Bank.  It also includes former central bank governors and senior judges.

They called on investigative agencies to clamp down on corruption and say a recent slew of graft scams, like the 2G scandal which may have cost the government up to $39 billion, have “deeply hurt the nation”.

Days of darkness during Diwali?

Diwali, the festival of lights, is here but do we see a pall of gloom with the BSE Sensex crashing more than 50 percent since January 2008?

Things have come to such a pass that some people have simply stopped looking at their portfolios. They think it’s too late now to cut losses.

“I have now lost faith in long-term investment, I wish I had booked profits in January when my portfolio had doubled,” says my friend Vikrant, who works for a leading business newspaper in New Delhi.

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