“TOTTERING GOVERNMENT : SPLINTERED OPPOSITION”
By Lt Gen SK Sinha (Retd)
My generation recalls that wonderful dawn of great hope and confidence rising like a phoenix from all the chaos, mayhem and violence of Partition. Jawahar Lal Nehru’s historic oration articulated in wonderful language in the Parliament “At the stroke of midnight hour”, was indeed most inspiring. We derided Winston Churchill’s usual anti-India diatribe, “Power will go into the hands of rascals, rogues and freebooters …. They will fight among themselves and India will be lost in political squabbles.” We dismissed his dog in the manger outpourings as the ravings of an imperialist who found it difficult to reconcile himself to the loss of the jewel in the British Empire. Sixty five years later, his derisive remarks have acquired a ring of bitter truth.
It is one of the wonders of world history how the Mahatma could mobilise a people wallowing in the dust of poverty, ignorance and servility to demand and succeed in gaining independence through non violent means. He also mobilised a galaxy of dedicated leaders of very high calibre from all regions of the country in making personal sacrifice and working loyally under his leadership. Thus the largest and most powerful Empire known to history had to yield to the demand for independence and quit. He demonstrated that politics is a game that can also be played not only by a saint working for right end using only right means. Though we dutifully observe his birth and death anniversaries, we have jettisoned all that he stood for.
Two perceptive observations by our two great leaders of the past, C Rajagopalchari and Dr B R Ambedkar, need to be pondered over. The former wrote, “Elections and their corruption and tyranny of wealth and inefficiency of administration will make a hell of life as soon as freedom is given to us. Men will look regretfully back to the old days of comparative justice and efficient, peaceful and more or less honest administration.” A democracy cannot function without elections but it must be so conducted that corruption, money power or administrative inefficiency are kept out of the election process to the maximum possible extent. Jawaharlal Nehru took the very bold step of introducing universal suffrage in one go while western democracies took a century and more to do so. The world watched with amazement how this could succeed in a country where the overall literacy rate was below ten per cent. This succeeded in the early years of our Independence because of the quality of our then leaders, who had made great sacrifice during the freedom movement. They commanded overwhelming support of the people and did not have to adopt foul means. When the quality of leaders changed in successive generations and leaders did not have that image, they had to resort to corrupt practises like using money and muscle power, building vote bank on caste and religion basis and so on. The situation got compounded by our not introducing electoral reforms. Thus elections have become the fountain head of corruption in our country eating into the vitals of our democratic polity.
Ambedkar gave a perceptive warning when he stated, “Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul but in politics Bhakti or hero worship is a sure road to degeneration and eventual dictatorship.” This has manifested itself in our becoming a feudal democracy with all the ills that go with feudalism. It is against the basic tenets of democracy, liberty, equality and fraternity. A courtier culture is promoted and self respect is compromised. During the rule of Emperor Akbar there was a sect of Brahmans in Agra called Darshania Brahmans. They would eat their morning meal only after a Darshan of the Emperor who used to stand on the balcony of his Palace to view his subjects waiting on the ground below to loyally bow to him. On days when the Emperor would not appear on the balcony, the Darshanis Brahmans would fast. Today in our country the first family at Delhi has taken the lead in establishing one family rule at Delhi. Several regional parties have followed suit. This has grave implications affecting national dignity and giving a fillip to sycophancy. At this rate we may become a nation of Darshania Brahmans. Family rule is a prescription for inefficiency in administration. It also promotes corruption. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Absolute power for generations is worse still.
Parliamentary elections are due in 2014. They may be held even earlier. No matter when these elections are held, the contenders for power will be Congress led UPA, BJP led NDA and the regional parties. A critical assessment of these parties will not be out of place.
The Congress is the Grand Old Party of India. Since the Himalayan Debacle of 1962 in the closing years of its golden period, it has been steadily going downhill. Never has the image of a Government in this country been sullied so much as during the present Congress rule. Scams after scams involving mind boggling amounts like 2G, Commonwealth Games, Adarsh Colony have been surfacing. Now we have entered the era of gates like Coalgate, and now Coalgate, Vadra gate and Herald gate, personally involving the top leadership of the party has been surfacing in quick succession. In terms of money involved, Bofors was peanuts compared to the scams of nowadays. However, it is pertinent how that scandal was buried in a most brazen manner. That may not be possible today in an era of investigative journalism, breaking news and instant communication. On top of all this, the abject failure of the Government to control rising prices and downslide of the economy, have made life hell for the aam admi. The UPA 2 Government is surviving on life support from alliance or outside partners. This may get snapped at any time. The record of the heir apparent in politics has not been inspiring. Despite the media hype of his being a youth icon, his performance in managing recent Bihar, U.P. and Punjab elections, has been disastrous. His repeated foot in the mouth remarks have not done him much credit, the latest being at the recent rally in Ramlila grounds. He pointed out that his party had supported the BJP during the Kargil war but that party was not reciprocating during the present economic crisis, are totally misconceived. There can be no comparison between wars and economic crisis. BJP gave untainted support to the Congress in all wars fought during the latter’s regime in 1947-48, 1962, 1965 and 1971. It cannot be forgotten that a large inflated rubber bus turned upside down had been placed in front of the AICC office in Delhi at the beginning of the Kargil war. It had to be removed due to mounting public resentment.
Despite all its frailties, the Congress has several assets which can tip the scales in its favour in the coming elections. No party has as much money power as the Congress has. It holds the reins of power and knows how to use it to its advantage.. The party is totally united under its top leadership. No one in the party dare stake his claim for the top post. During Indira Gandhi regime the party President had stated that Indira is India and India is Indira. Sanjay Gandhi the then heir apparent was compared with Swami Vivekanand, Shankaracharya and Emperor Akbar. Today Cabinet Ministers compete with each other to show total loyalty to the party supremo. One Cabinet Minister has declared that he would sacrifice his life for her sake. Another has compared Rahul Gandhi with Mahatma Gandhi, on the basis of his touring all over the country to know the problems of the poor first hand and visiting their homes, sharing food with them and occasionally even spending a night in their humble abode. The sycophant brigade acts as a strong phalanx to protect its leadership against any allegations. The main Opposition party is ridden with squabbling leaders and is not free from the taint of corruption. In the circumstance, the TINA factor may operate.
BJP was a party with a difference with its dedicated and disciplined cadre of workers. Today it is a party with differences. It has a surfeit of talented leaders but they are unable to put their act together to be seen as a credible Opposition. The party leadership must earnestly address this problem well before the next election. Its efforts to attack Congress for numerous cases of corruption, have been undermined by corruption among its leaders.. Its past President, Bangalore has recently been given a jail sentence for corruption. Nitin Gadkari’s surprise appointment as party President from virtual obscurity has not been inspiring. His initial boorish statements as President did not do him much credit. He settled down but his subsequent actions have been seen in poor light. He failed to take appropriate action against Yedurappa when concrete evidence was available of his corrupt activities. To save BJP’s toe hold in South India he chose to compromise with his corruption. In the process he has jeopardised the party’s chances of coming to power at the Centre. Yedurappa has been blackmailing the party and now on the eve of the coming parliamentary election, is reported to be quitting the party to form his own party. Gadkari gave a Raya Sabha ticket from Jharkhand to a NRI money bag with no political credentials. This caused turmoil in the party. The NRI had to withdraw his candidature. During the U.P. Assemcly election, he inducted Khushwaha into the party from BSP, despite his criminal record. This proved to be counterproductive. While the constitution of the party was being amended to allow him a second term, allegations of corruption against him were made by Arvind Khejriwal. His initial reaction asking for investigation into the allegations was in refreshing contrast to what the Congress had been doing to block investigation in such cases. He lost a great opportunity by not stepping down till investigation exonerated him like Advani had done when he was falsely implicated in the Hawala case. Already the party’s image had been besmirched with its former President, Bangaluru being given a jail sentence on corruption charges. This has given a feeling among the common people that on the issue of corruption there is little to choose between the Congress and the BJP.
There are some eminent and capable BJP leaders in the Parliament like Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and Yashwant Sinha but they do not have a mass following required to be Prime Minister. The former with her outstanding Hindi oratory and appeal to women voters, has an edge. However, her breaking into a dance at Gandhiji’s Samadhi and insisting that she has the right to so express her patriotic fervour, embarrassed many of her admirers? So has her strident support for Gadkari . BJP has some capable Chief Ministers but they have yet to acquire the stature required for Prime Minister. The two outstanding possibilities in the party are L K Advani and Narendra Modi. Advani is a leader with the longest experience of political life in the country. He has successfully held the penultimate office as Deputy Prime Minister. He is a person of impeccable integrity and very high moral values. He has never promoted his son or daughter in politics like many present day political leaders. He is in his mid eighties but physically much fitter than many people half his age. There are several instances of people of in their eighties serving as the Head of Government like Winston Churchill in his second term in the UK, Ronald Regan in the US, and Marshal Foch in Germany. Mahapurush Shankardev in the Fifteenth Century was a unique genius who lived up to the age of 125 and most of his contributions were made after he was over 100 years old. M Krunanidhi till recently Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu confined to a wheel chair, is four years older than Advani and continues to be active in politics. People raise the age bogey in case of Advani for vested interests. The other outstanding possibility for Prime Minister from BJP is Narendra Modi who has achieved virtual miracle in the development of Gujarat. He is a charismatic leader who connects well with the masses. The sustained anti Modi propaganda for the 2002 Gujarat riots in Gujarat make him unacceptable to ”secularists” even among NDA allies. If BJP is not able to get a clear majority on its own, his being Prime Minister in a coalition may become questionable. Be that as it may, it is advisable for the BJP to choose its Prime Ministerial candidate before the election. The Congress by making Rahul Gandhi in charge of managing the parliamentary election has confirmed the long known fact of his being its Prime Ministerial candidate.
There are a number of regional parties. Some leaders from these parties have been trying to form a third front. They have Prime Ministerial ambitions. A conglomeration of these parties may manage the required numbers but chances of this are remote. They may form an alliance with one of the two national parties to come to power. Such a coalition may have a short life like the governments led by VP Singh, Chandra Shekhar, Deva Gowda and IK Gujral.
The goal post has been lying wide open but the main opposition party has not been able to shoot the ball into the net. Instead it has been scoring self goals. It is difficult to predict the results of the forthcoming election sweepstakes. Let us hope and pray that whichever party comes to power makes an honest attempt to take the Nation out of the morass of corruption, nepotism and inefficiency which have become the hallmarks of governance in our country. All the muck in the staircase has to be cleaned from the top. For this we need a strong Prime Minister of impeccable integrity, tremendous drive, proven ability and total dedication, capable of taking hard decisions.By Lt Gen S K Sinha