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February 5, 1998


The Rediff Election Special/Sashi Kumar

How can the BJP's 18-party coalition provide stability?

I guess when you are young, you dream, and I too dreamt about an India where there is more prosperity and equality. Even in school, one was sensitised to the fact that a good portion of society is deprived. Right from my youth, I started reading a bit of Marxism, and then others came into my life. For example, M Govindam was a big influence in my life. N Ram of The Hindu was also a great influence, especially in the early stages of my life. E M S (Namboodiripad), of course, was inspiring. Then the heroes of revolutions like (Fidel) Castro, Che Guevera, etc, also became my heroes.

I still think that only communism and socialism are more committed to a humane society. I felt disillusioned when communism collapsed in certain parts of the world. I can never question the basic philosophy or motivation of such an ideology. Today it is fashionable to talk about a post-ideological world. As long as you are living in a society, there will be various kinds of ideologies and opinions. I still feel that socialism has delivered goods far better than capitalism.

I don't consciously use my television channel as a Left propaganda tool. That would be ridiculous. What does happen, however, is that having a certain predisposition, the team I choose also tends to have the same disposition. Therefore, when it comes to editorial matters, I feel we give a Left slant. And I have made no apology about it. Someone told me, 'It is alleged that you are Left-oriented'. I said it is not an allegation, it is a celebration. Our editorial will be Left-oriented.

A sizeable number of middle-class and upper middle-class people have become cynical about the political scene in India, but not the youth. They are far more passionate about everything. I think we are going through a period of flux and everything has to crystallise at some point of time. The watershed was Mandalisation.

It churned the entire society, which was very good, as we had an artificial system earlier. Sooner or later, it had to burst on our face because the majority of the country was kept out of decision-making through millennia of structured caste-oriented distancing.

If we were to write the history of modern India, one person's name would be in bold letters: that of V P Singh. He made a very big difference. Yes, caste is an essential ingredient of Indian politics. That is why the Marxists talk about the overlap of caste and politics in India. Caste is always there in our society in a very, very dominant manner and nobody can ignore it.

I believe in liberalisation, but only on our terms. China is the best example to follow. They liberalised on their own terms and not on the terms of the International Monetary Fund or the United States of America. The paradox of today's modernity is that the most protectionist country in the world is the US. They want everything to be exported from their country but decide on what should come into their country. This selective application or extension of ideology is capitalism.

Liberalisation is supposed to be a corollary of capitalism. In that sense, there is nothing wrong in being protecting your own economy, because you know what is best for you. Otherwise you become what Newsweek or Time called 'crony capitalist'. What happened to all these crony capitalists like Indonesia, and other South-East Asian countries? They are all collapsing like nine pins. I don't think we follow that type of blind liberalisation or blind IMFisation. We should set our own agenda as we know what is best or our country.

Today, it is the Bharatiya Janata Party which talks about swadeshi. But we are also concerned about swadeshi. The BJP's view on swadeshi may be different from that of the Left or the Congress. I think all national parties are concerned about it. The problem is to be concerned is not enough; you must have the courage to act. Otherwise, the IMF package might take you to a point of no return and after that you can do nothing about it. When you become a debtor nation, in the IMF sense, you will have to go through the whole agenda which the IMF sets. It will make you a basket economy like Mexico or the other Latin American countries. That will be dangerous for our country.

I don't think the present general election will be decisive. Everybody knows that. It will be a big surprise if it is decisive. What should we have, a 13-party coalition again or an 18-party coalition of the BJP? Yes, the initial propaganda advantage is with the BJP. But they are going to cobble together nothing short of an 18-party coalition. And they are asking for a stable mandate? If a 13-party coalition could not deliver the goods, how do you expect an 18-party coalition to do that?

The BJP coalition, if it comes to power, will also be shaky. Again, we are going to repeat the exercise in another year. There is nothing wrong in that. The 7.5 billion or whatever we spend on elections is well worth the exercise and good for democracy. I am not against coalition politics at all. Because coalitions are representative of a country like ours. The country itself is a mosaic. So, what else can work?

That is why I think the two Left-led states are the most representative of the people because they are coalition governments. Both in Kerala and West Bengal, coalitions work very well. So a coalition is not a bad or dirty word like many say.

I don't expect any great change in our society if the BJP or its alliance come to power. There is a thinking today among people that 'Why not give them also a chance, why are we keeping them away, let them also try', etc. Personally, I have no problem in that kind of thinking. But I don't see them doing anything spectacular or distinctive in them.

And I certainly feel that the minorities in the country will feel threatened. If they came to power, they will show their majoritarian religious character. That is what makes them different. Even if they have one or two enlightened leaders, the pressure would be to assert yourself ideologically. And what is their ideology? Religion.

I think Sonia Gandhi's entry into active politics has made a slight difference. In the sense that the Congress which was in a total shambles, akin to a tumbling house, has for a moment had a morale boosting effect. Yes, I think she is an Italian. But that is not a concern for me. There are so many foreigners coming here and going back. So one more foreigner is not going to make any difference.

I don't think she will rule our country. I don't object to her foreign origin; my objection is, what does she know about Indian politics? What does she know about the reality of India? Her husband was bad enough, she must be worse. Even her husband did not know anything, how can you expect her to know anything more? These are my basic objections. Her Italian origin does not worry me, I feel we can be liberal in our attitude to that point. You can marry anyone, and if s/he becomes an Indian citizen, we can give her/him a chance.

The problem with the Congress is their servility. It is ridiculous. Do you mean to say that in a country like India, no one else can deliver the goods? That is what happens to a servile party whose ideology has been thrown out of the window. I think even rural people will understand all these things. Sonia Gandhi's meetings may draw large crowds. One should not convert all that to votes. If she were to speak here, I too would like to see her. But that does not mean I will vote for her. Even if the entire crowd is converted into votes, I will be happy because it will eat into the BJP's votes and not the Left voters or the United Front's votes.

I think the BJP is a threat to India. It may not be campaigning as such, but their plank is known, and it is based on religion. I think it is not in the interests of India to vote such a party to power.

Sashi Kumar, journalist and television personality, is chief executive officer of the southside television channel, Asianet. He spoke to Shobha Warrier.

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