BJP President Amit Shah may not have heard of the phrase, “It ain’t over until the fat lady sings.” But it will be very easy to explain to him what it means now. In the wee hours of August 9, 2017, the 70th anniversary of the Congress-led historic Quit India Movement and the third anniversary of Shah’s official takeover of his party’s presidentship, a ‘Muslim Patel’ from Gujarat’s Bharuch showed the Congress how to take on the might of the Sangh Parivar that seems determined to ideologically colonise an ancient civilisation whose beauty lies in its plurality.
The irony could not have been better: While Mahatma Gandhi’s freedom movement, which gathered critical momentum with the Quit India Movement, emphasised on ‘the means justifying the ends’ and resulted in thousands of Indians who heeded the call sacrificing their lives to sustain a non-violent cause, his party colleague born almost 19 months after the Mahatma was assassinated by zealots who advocated a Hindu nation took the help of a corporate giant to bankroll his victory in the Rajya Sabha election in Gujarat.
While puritans may wail at the state of affairs in the Congress, veteran politicians would tell one that the only way to fight the Narendra Modi-led BJP is to leave the job to the likes of Ahmed Patel. The question is whether the ‘future leader’ of the Congress, Rahul Gandhi, realises this.
Congressmen who have played a key role in striking deals with fellow politicians of different parties to ensure that the Vajpayee-led government was defeated in 2004 were put off by the fact that Sonia Gandhi chose a technocrat as the PM. They would have preferred an Arjun Singh or a Pranab Mukherjee. But Sonia Gandhi chose Manmohan Singh, the architect of the economic reforms who had a squeaky clean track record.
He was given a second stint too. During his stay, he brought transparency legislation, among several pro-poor measures, that returned as a boomerang to smash the image of his government. Has anyone wondered about the travesty of how a man certified even by his detractors as non-corrupt has to shoulder the legacy of presiding over the ‘most-corrupt government’?
We have heard policy wonks talk about administrative paralysis of the Manmohan Singh Government too. What actually happened in the UPA and the Congress? At the helm of the party and government were Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh, respectively, who did not understand or subscribe to the seamy ways of conducting politics.
While Singh’s philosophy was understandable, what puzzled and angered veteran Congress politicians was Sonia Gandhi’s attitude: On the one hand, she would frown at murky deals that had to be done to get the party and government going but on the other, she had no answer to a Chief Minister of her party in a state close to the national capital doing huge deals with her son-in-law, bringing the whole family under the direct attack of the Opposition.
This reminded the Congress veterans of her late husband who once termed them and their predecessors as power brokers. Just like they abandoned Rajiv Gandhi in the late 1980s to fight his Bofors war, with his Doon school boys for company, the veterans, who naïve commentators and studio warriors would dismiss as greasy politicians, decided to take a hands-off approach.
The UPA Government soon lost the insulation that was needed to protect it from the attacks of the Opposition. It was not just about Narendra Modi, his powerful oratory and use of the social media that turned the 2014 Lok Sabha elections into a one-sided match. Congress veterans who had the capacity to respond to Team Modi in kind and turn the tables on it just watched as Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi floundered fabulously. It was not a traditional government that was at the helm in New Delhi from 2010 to 2014. It was something like an NGO running the show. The rest, as they say, is history.
But is the Gandhi family ready to learn from history? To fight and survive in the seamy world of politics, a party needs different kinds of people. One needs visionaries and committed policy makers like Manmohan Singh of course. But a serious political party is like a three-ring circus. Just as a circus cannot be a hit without trapeze artistes, flamethrowers, animals, magicians, jokers etc., a thriving political party needs hatchet men, warlords, fixers, propaganda specialists, erudite spokesmen, legal eagles etc.
Talk of clean politics to enamour the people will be done by spokesmen while propaganda specialists spin and twist events to suit occasions, even while someone else strikes a deal with other parties and another negotiates murky deal with corporates houses.
If anyone had any doubt that practical and successful politics is not a cutthroat affair, the recent Rajya Sabha elections in Gujarat offered a rare insight. While the BJP used the government machinery at its hand at the Centre and the state to defeat Ahmed Patel, the Congress veteran accepted the challenge and romped home successfully. It was not just a prestige win but a demonstration for Rahul Gandhi and the others on what politics was all about. And those who may believe that such murky politics is limited to the Indian subcontinent may do well to remember Mao Zedong’s famous quote: “War is politics with bloodshed, while politics is war without bloodshed.”
Stones From Glasshouse
The BJP and RSS are doing their best to besmirch the reputation of India’s only big model state with remarkable human development indices which best illustrate level of human progress.
However, half the population of politically conscious Kerala are not bothered about the propaganda unleashed in the national capital, while the other half seem to have taken to social media to scoff at the Sangh’s vile attempts to make Kerala look like Gujarat of 2002.
The daughter of a man who was expelled from the BJP for defending the assassins of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi went to the extent of calling Kerala “Godforsaken country.”
She only has to take a solo drive around midnight through her BJP-run Haryana to know what a godforsaken place looks like. Where else in the world would you hear of a Chief Secretary-level official having to fight at a police station to get a first investigation report registered, just because the one who stalked his daughter happened to be the son of the ruling party chief’s son?
In fact, her phrase will easily come to mind to anyone from Kerala travelling through vast tracts of northern India for the first time.
(firstname.lastname@example.org)(Published on 14th August 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 33)