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Politics Sans Principles

Politics Sans Principles

Mahatma Gandhi had defined what he called seven deadly sins. They are wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, science without humanity, knowledge without character, politics without principle, commerce without morality and worship without sacrifice. I remembered this quotation when I heard that Tom Vadakkan of the Congress had joined the Bharatiya Janata Party. We were together on a television channel discussing Advocate-General KK Venugopal’s assertion in the Supreme Court, amended subsequently, that the newspaper The Hindu which published the Rafale documents could face punitive action under the Official Secrets Act.

When I reached the Asianet studio, Vadakkan shook hands with me. For once, I could not recognise him. “I am AJ Philip. You are ...” I muttered reluctantly. Asianet’s Delhi Bureau Chief Prashant Raghuvamsam, who was with him, tried to avert the embarrassment when he said, “He is Tom Vadakkan”. He also introduced me to him. I said sorry to Vadakkan that I could not recognise him. Later, when we met after the discussion, I reminded him that we had met a few years ago when a visiting Israeli Minister was felicitated at Hotel Taj over breakfast. In the discussion, both of us took a similar stand. While I concentrated on explaining what constituted news — something which somebody wants to suppress — Vadakkan went a step further and disclosed how the Modi government had already stopped releasing government advertisements to  The Hindu. What he said was news to me.

Vadakkan is a “seasoned” politician. He was often invited to television studios to represent the Congress. Although he did not come across as a very articulate spokesperson, he was consistently a trenchant critic of the NDA government, especially Prime Minister Narendra Modi. I first heard his name when newspapers discussed Vadakkan as a Congress candidate from Thrishur in Kerala in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. There was a virtual revolt from the Congressmen in the state as he was an unknown entity there. The Congress did not want to take a risk and he was not given the ticket. Should we blame him for his aspiration? Vadakkan was at least known to television viewers when his name was floated as a candidate from Thrishur with the help of his own media friends. That was not the case when Kamal Nath was fielded from Chhindwara in Madhya Pradesh for the first time.

I was with The Hitavada at that time. When PTI and UNI carried his name as the official Congress candidate, my senior colleague, Lajja Shankar Hardenia, was flummoxed. We all wanted to know who Kamal Nath was. Hardenia contacted several Congress leaders who were as clueless as we were. Finally, he found out from someone that Nath was a Calcutta-based businessman who studied with Sanjay Gandhi at Doon Public School. Today Nath is the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh.

So Vadakkan was well within his rights to demand a ticket, particularly because of his alleged connections with the Sonia Gandhi family. It would have been a political harakiri for the Congress in Thrishur if he was fielded from there. He does not have either the charisma or the ability to sway the voters, particularly when the party has to fight for every single vote. What should he have done? The heavens would not have fallen if he had shown patience, remained in the Congress and sought a political or constitutional post commensurate with his abilities. Instead, he joined the BJP which he had been criticising all these years using his Twitter handle and other media apparatuses.

When Trolls began attacking him with his own statements made earlier, he made the even more ludicrous claim that whatever he said in the past about the NDA government and Modi were not his own personal views. He was merely reading out the scripts given to him. In other words, Vadakkan was just a script-reader. Now, he will be reading out scripts written by the BJP. What a fall, Vadakkan!

He exemplifies what Gandhi said, politics without principles. What is politics without principles? “In the movie The Ten Commandments, Moses says to the Pharaoh, ‘We are to be governed by God's law, not by you’. In effect he's saying, "We will not be governed by a person unless that person embodies the law."  In the best societies and organisations, natural laws and principles govern - that's the Constitution - and even the top people must bow to the principle. No one is above it. Do our politicians follow this principle? Vadakkan may be an extreme case but most politicians are not above board in this regard.

As I write this, I see a television scroll that says four Congress MLAs in Gujarat have joined the BJP. Would they have done so if the Congress was in power in the state? In West Bengal, a CPM office overnight became the BJP office when a Marxist leader joined the party along with his followers. Earlier, in Tripura, once the stronghold of the Marxists, the whole Congress party virtually renamed itself as BJP. Politics has become the art of the possible. That was not the case earlier.

When millions of people took part in the freedom struggle and some suffered in the Cellular Jail in Andaman, they did not bother about whether their struggle would liberate the country from the foreign yoke. What mattered to them was that they were convinced about the genuineness of their cause. If PJ Joseph of the Kerala Congress was not given a ticket from Idukki, he could have easily split the party and joined hands with the LDF and fought against the UDF. R Balakrishna Pillai was sent to jail for his involvement in corruption by Marxist leader VS Achuthanandan. Today Pillai and his son are with the very group that sent him to jail.

Does all this mean that a politician has no right to change? Mahatma Gandhi who coined the seven deadly sins is himself a great example. Anyone who has gone through his Complete Works would be startled by the fact that consistency was not one of the Mahatma’s hallmarks. Gandhi was asked what should be considered as his view if he had expressed contrary viewpoints over the years. His answer was clear: “If I have said something contrary to what I had said earlier, consider the latest statement as my view”. I had read Gandhi saying that dropping of semen, except for procreation, was a sin. I am sure he would have changed his view when he would have learnt about a phenomenon called nocturnal emission in later life.

The fact is that nobody can be sure of what a politician would do if he is given a better option. Ideology does not any longer matter to politicians. They are in politics because they cannot do anything else and their only aim is to make money, not for themselves but for their generations to come. We had George Fernandes defending one government one day and attacking it the next day. There was one SM Krishna in Karnataka who held high posts as a Congress person but the moment he felt that he was being sidelined, he walked over to the BJP. Arun Shourie, who once said that the BJP was “Congress plus Cow”, was himself a Leftist, having worked with the People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL). He even wrote a book critiquing Hinduism.

Soon, he underwent a conversion, became a staunch advocate of Hindutva, attacking Islam, Christianity, Communists and the Ambedkarite. He became a senior minister in the Vajpayee government. He would have loved to be the finance minister in the Modi government. But Modi had no such plans. So he became a critic of Modi. Similarly, Yashwant Sinha and Shatrughan Sinha, both Kayasthas, became critics of Modi only because they were not given any ministerial position.  Modi’s attempt to placate Yashwant Sinha by accommodating his son in his ministry did not have the desired effect. All of them remain loose canons. Then there is Kirti Azad, son of former Congress Chief Minister, Bhagwat Jha Azad, who had personal problems with Arun Jaitley. 

The point is that they have been the only vocal critics of Modi, as everybody in his party and government considered it their bounden duty to defend him even when he did such foolish things as demonetising high-denomination currency notes and involving a totally-failed businessman as a partner in the Rafale deal. It is also significant that while Modi has been paying back Rahul Gandhi in his own coin, he has not so far dared to take on either Yashwant Sinha or Shourie. Criticism is the essence of democracy. One of the main reasons for the failure of Modi as Prime Minister is that there was no one to guide him.

Because he won an election on his own steam, the BJP leaders saw him as a superman who could not be challenged. LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi could have played the role of a critic but they, too, feared that he might turn against them. The moment Advani showed interest in the post of President, newspapers were awash with reports that the Babri Masjid demolition case was far from over. Modi knew how to discipline his critics and they were willing to be disciplined. Ultimately, the BJP has been reduced to a two-member party. No one other than Modi and his Sancho Panza mattered in the organisation. The party will be paying dearly for this lapse in the forthcoming election.

It is curious that the BJP which is against conversion is the one which accepts all kinds of defectors. Many of its leaders are rank opportunists. When KJ Alphons learnt that the Marxist Party did not rate him high, though he won a seat in the Kerala Assembly with its support, he shifted his base to Noida, found his way to Modi’s heart and a ministerial job. Small wonder that he does not inspire confidence. Once Vadakkan had put it nicely. The BJP is like the Kumbh Mela. Once a person takes a dip there, he is cleansed of all his sins. Sukh Ram was a politician from Himachal Pradesh. Wads of currency notes worth several crores of rupees were confiscated by the Income Tax Department. The bundles were kept in his puja room.

The BJP did not allow Parliament to function for many days because they wanted action against Sukh Ram. But the moment he joined the BJP, he became a politically clean person. His son is now a minister in Himachal Pradesh. The fact of the matter is that nobody can trust the Indian politician. He will change the moment he feels that opportunity beckons him. Is it a new phenomenon?

Mohammed Ali Jinnah was a Congressman but he left the party to form the Muslim League and create history by forming a new nation called Pakistan, the land of the pure. Netaji Bose was twice elected president of the Congress but he left it to form his own party and join hands with fascists and Nazis.  Innumerable are the stories of such defections. The Bharatiya Jan Singh, the precursor of the BJP, was started by a defector. The Communist Party of India was also a creation of the defectors from the Congress like EMS Namboothiripad.

When BR Ambedkar, SP Mukherjee and Namboothiripad defected from the Congress, they were at least inspired by a dream, a new ideology. But when the Vadakkans defect, they are not inspired by any ideology. They have such narrow objectives as getting a seat or a position. Significantly, when Rajiv Gandhi won the largest-ever majority the Congress got in 1984, the first decision he took was to come up with the anti-defection Bill to end the Aya-Ram-Gaya-Ram (Ram came, Ram went) phenomenon. He feared that many of his MPs might not stay with him for long.

Defection is fine if it is based on principles and the defector is prepared to undergo the test of fire like the one Sita underwent to prove her innocence. Alas, our politicians have become purchasable commodities who prefer to be auctioned to get the highest price. For every Tom in the Congress, there is a Dick and a Harry in every other party. That is the price the nation pays for its politics without principles!

( ajphilip@gmail.com)

(Published on 18th March 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 12)