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Daily Take: PM's age is Congress concern
May 05, 2004 03:43 IST
Over the last few days the Congress has been steadily intensifying its attack on the NDA's trump card, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The focus: his advanced age and failing health.
Last week Congress spokesman Kapil Sibal questioned Vajpayee's fitness to rule in view of what he called his failing memory.
On Tuesday, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, addressing an election rally in Malda, West Bengal, sought to know who his successor would be.
Vajpayee himself had told a television news channel in an interview some days ago that the line of succession in the BJP was clear, but had refused to divulge any details.
But Gandhi said the people had a right to know who the chosen successor is.
She also remarked that it had become very difficult these days to understand Vajpayee, because he "says something different and contrary every day".
The drift of the Congress campaign is clear: the party is suggesting that Vajpayee is too old and unfit to govern India much longer. Apparently its brains trust has decided that there is no way it can take on the NDA without taking on Vajpayee.
The BJP's response so far has been predictable. The party is trying to counterattack by claiming that such attacks on a venerable leader are a sign of disrespect to elders and prove that Sonia Gandhi does not understand Indian culture.
But whether such a defence will wash in a country where 60 per cent of the population is under 35 and where traditional values are being rapidly eroded by the same process of globalisation that the BJP claims credit for is a moot point.
The BJP is not the only party to be rattled by the increasingly aggressive Congress campaign.
Defence Minister George Fernandes, no slouch himself when it comes to aggressive campaigning, has petitioned the Election Commission to restrain Gandhi from carrying on with what he called her ugly campaign on the coffins scandal.
Fernandes's reasoning: Such a campaign in the border areas is demoralising the troops stationed there. He said the troops must not be allowed to be dragged into a controversy and demoralised in this manner.
All very patriotic and lofty. Except that Fernandes seems to forget that he and many of his colleagues in government now had boosted their own political careers by flogging another scandal involving purchases for the army — the Bofors scandal.
Or maybe the defence minister believes that what is sauce for the gander isn't so for the goose.
If you doubt the benefits of having an educated, aware electorate, and prefer to swear by the 'native wisdom' of illiterate, ignorant voters, maybe you should take a look at Kerala.
The state has the lowest number of candidates with serious criminal cases against them. Just one — yes, that's right, just one — of the 177 candidates in the fray, an independent in Ernakulam, is facing a charge of attempted murder.
None of the political parties in the fray has put up a candidate facing such charges, a voluntary forum called Election Watch Kerala has found.
That, of course, does not mean there are no candidates facing criminal charges. Twenty-four others, including seven from the CPI-M, five from the BJP, and one from the Congress, have cases registered against them. But these are for 'minor' offences relating to agitational politics, like unlawful assembly, obstruction of duty, damage to public property, and public speech in a prohibited area.
Seeing the number of agitations that take place in Kerala every year, that should come as no surprise.
You do wonder at times: in spite of so much education and awareness, why do the Keralites in Kerala expend so much time and energy on agitations? But then, better an agitationist than a rapist or a murderer.
Daily Take: Against the popular will