Power centre

Is the Congress like the later Mughals? A unifying force at the Centre whose writ doesn’t run as far as Agra? Not even Rahul Gandhi could bolster the Congress in the UP assembly elections. And yet Sonia Gandhi is the sixth most powerful woman in the world, according to Forbes, which ranks only five women ahead of her: Angela Merkel, Hillary Clinton, President Dilma Roussef of Brazil, Bill Gates’ wife Melinda Gates, and the New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson. Even Michelle Obama and IMF chief Christine Lagarde, in seventh and eighth places respectively, are considered less powerful than Sonia Gandhi.

But if she is so powerful, how come  Pranab Mukherjee was elected President – a man who, by all accounts, was not her first choice for the post? She may be the power behind the throne, but it is a throne beset with divisions, which were exposed when Mukherjee took a gratuitous dig at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s “trickle-down” economics after being sworn in as President. For three years, the Prime Minister put up with a finance minister who did not share his views. Divisions in the Cabinet are not unusual, but the UPA-2 coalition has been particularly fractious. Singh can’t push through economic reforms opposed by others. Then there is Sharad Pawar, who threatened to resign when home minister Sushilkumar Shinde became the No 2 in the cabinet. And what about the DMK? It certainly caused a stink when A Raja had to quit the cabinet over the 2G spectrum scam.

Now “Coalgate” threatens to tarnish the Prime Minister himself. His weakness is a reflection on his party leader, Sonia Gandhi, as well. She is not omnipotent like her mother-in-law, Indira Gandhi, was in her heyday. The political equation has changed with the rise of regional parties and identity politics. Singh and Gandhi would not be in power today without the support of regional parties.

The opposition is restive, but though they huff and puff in parliament, neither the NDA nor the Left has the numbers to win a no-confidence vote against the government. Singh and, by extension, Sonia Gandhi are, in fact, more powerful than the later Mughals. For the states still turn to the Centre for funds they can’t or won’t raise through new or higher taxes and risk alienating their voters. And who rules at the Centre? Sonia Gandhi – sorry, Manmohan Singh – of course.

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