Public affairs analyst Vivek Sengupta is Founder and Chief Executive of the consulting firm Moving Finger Communications. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Since India is a parliamentary democracy, there is always the possibility of a party, precariously in power, seeking to consolidate its position by calling a snap poll. Indira Gandhi famously did that in 1970 when she led a minority government which was in power with the support of the Left. Her move to abolish privy purses for princes was defeated in the Rajya Sabha by one vote and she decided to take the bold step of recommending the dissolution of the Lok Sabha. This was the only way, she reasoned, she could decisively break free of a political state where she was constantly at the receiving end of the slings and arrows of her detractors, particularly the Old Guard of the Congress.
One full year before elections were due, she went to the people, in early 1971, with the slogan of "Garibi Hatao (Banish Poverty)". Fortune favours the brave. Mrs Gandhi returned to power with a resounding majority in Parliament. It marked the beginning of the golden period of her rule. In 1972, she was to be instrumental in the liberation of Bangladesh and the dismemberment of Pakistan.
Nearly four decades later, the Congress is again hamstrung in Parliament. It is in power as the largest party in an alliance that is "United" only in name. There is no knowing whether the government will be able to survive should it be forced to face a trust vote in Parliament. Miss Mamata Banerjee, whose Trinamool Congress was a key member of the UPA, withdrew her support from the government on the issue of allowing FDI in retail. She has made it known that she will seek a trust vote at the first opportunity.
That apart, the government has been reeling under the impact of successive blows in the shape of controversies on various issue of corruption. The flow of scandals has been unending and there does not seem to be much likelihood of the government getting a respite from these.
From that perspective, this is hardly the time when any government would be inclined to seek a fresh mandate from the electorate. However, and this is critical for the ruling alliance, the Opposition is in disarray.
The BJP, which is the principal Opposition party, is far less united than the Congress, and does not convey the sense of wanting, let alone being prepared for, elections any time soon. The latest of the BJP's travails is the unedifying spectacle of its president having to face resignation demands from important party leaders.
A strong leader, who has the ability to see beyond the short-term, may view the current scenario as ripe for seizing the initiative and seeking an immediate and unequivocal mandate from the voters. Is the Congress President, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, such a leader?
What does appear certain is that she has decided that it is time to arrest the drift and sense of hopelessness that had engulfed the ruling UPA since the time the 2G controversy gained traction two years ago and the government got mired in a host of alleged scandals and attacked relentlessly by an anti-corruption movement.
Things changed dramatically a few weeks ago. First came the announcement by the government of a series of economic measures that made populist leaders see red. This was followed by a Cabinet revamp, which clearly signalled a generational change in the government. This is perhaps the precursor to a similar move towards a change of guard in the ruling party.
Finally, on Sunday, the Congress party held a rally in the capital where for the first time the leadership spoke unabashedly, and unequivocally, in favour of economic reforms. This is a path-breaking development. It has not been usual for the Congress leadership to use the forum of a mammoth public meeting to speak in favour of reforms.
It is clear that the party has decided to pull up its socks, give governance a good shot and prepare for the next elections. Parliamentary elections are not due until 2014. But the Congress may just choose to break out of the rut it has got itself into and make a brave bid for re-election to power. Sonia Gandhi, who has taken many a leaf out of the book of her illustrious mother-in-law, may choose to seek inspiration from Indira 1970-71.