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January 31, 1998

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Arun Nehru

What's cooking in the kitchen cabinets?

Winners and losers can be identified among politicians but considering that most leaders suffer from the 'kitchen' or 'home cabinet' syndrome, it is necessary to spend some time on identifying the attachments in each party.

The Congress's dynastic rule gets prominence but this is unfair! Look around you in we have the Abdullah dynasty with Farooq succeeding his father and declaring that he will be succeeded by his son. Andhra Pradesh witnesses the soap opera by the successors of N T Rama Rao his sons and daughters, son-in-law and wife -- while in Haryana as usual there is a record of sorts as grandfather Devi Lal, son Om Parkash Chauthala and grandson Abhay all control the party. Bansi Lal is not far behind with son and daughter, and Bhajan Lal is certainly not to be left behind with son and son-in-law! Karunanidhi has his son Stalin, while the Shiv Sena supremo has his son and nephew. Laloo Yadav has Rabri Devi and Rabri Devi has her brothers!

So why blame the Congress party and Sonia Gandhi alone? The system thrives with dynastic succession. Biju Patnaik, without doubt an outstanding Indian and leader of great quality, did not encourage dynastic succession but his death resulted in his goodwill going to his son, Naveen, and we now have the Biju Janata Dal. The CPI-M is free of this ailment while the BJP seems to be infested by all the familiar political ailments

The reality is that all leaders have two teams and some have three, and much depends on the leader, his longevity in office and the self-confidence he displays. Mrs Gandhi, in 16 years, had many a team and I can only comment on the period from 1980 when I was a member of the 'kitchen cabinet'. The war syndrome in the 'kitchen cabinet' is very severe, and battles here are fierce and almost always draw blood! Rajiv in 1980 was flying with Indian Airlines but after Sanjay died he assisted Mrs Gandhi and overnight Rajiv along with Vijay Dhar became the power centre in the Congress and the government. Every minister barring R Venkataraman and P V Narasimha Rao called on Rajiv.

Rajiv as prime minister had his own home lobby, and Vishwanath, Chandra Shekhar, P V Narasimha Rao, H D Deve Gowda and I K Gujral were no different. Look at the major players of 1998 and look at the home lobby of Atal Bihari, L K Advani, Sonia Gandhi, Sitaram Kesri; the regional forces in Tamil Nadu like the DMK supremo Karunanidhi, Mulayam Singh, Laloo and Rabri, G K Moopanar and Chandrababu Naidu -- power lies here and this is where the decisions will be made.

The inner teams do not consist of political beings only and there is a generous sprinkling of media magnates with heavy business interests, political media men with an eye for political favours which includes commercial favours, and lawyers with PIL experience of fixing opponents as we have seen, there are interested bureaucrats and officials the list goes on and on.

Everyone preaches morality, ethics, fair-play and national interest, and all this is fine provided it takes into account the needs of the 'kitchen-home' lobby. The reality is that a powerful vested interest exists and as governance decays we see that government assets and treasury are being used as a personal piggy bank.

Special allotments of houses and plots, pumps and gas agency, television contracts to select journalists, appointment as envoys and nominations to government and public sector boards will all show the direct involvement of the domestic lobby. There is nothing wrong in this and the leader cannot be the leader if he has no political patronage to offer the problem is almost always caused in their share and distribution among the major power groups within the leader's home domain. This is politics and the good thing is that there are few 'fig leafs' left in the 1998 campaign lines are being clearly drawn as everyone gets ready to share the spoils of victory.

In Haryana there is a clear trend in favour of Om Parkash Chauthala and we are going to see the return of the 'Tau dynasty' in a short time. The BJP is likely to get affected also, and I see Chautala along with the BSP winning four out of 10 seats and this can go up further by a seat or two. The Haryana Lok Dal-Rashtriya Party and Chautala have worked hard for this success.

Punjab also may have a few surprises for the Akali Dal-BJP combination, and there is little doubt that the BSP as an alliance partner in Haryana and Punjab will make a decisive difference. A BSP alliance in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh may have caused a great deal of trouble for the BJP but this will go into the post-mortem stage. The position in other states remains unchanged. In Delhi the lone Congress victory will come in Chandni Chowk, and both Tytler and R K Dhawan will put up stiff resistance but Jagmohan and Madan Lal Khurana are strong candidates.

The year 1997 had seen many public trials in which many a messiah surfaced to impose his morality on the system. The election is now upon us and where is the money coming from? Look at the costs, look only at the direct cost of each seat in terms of average expenditure, and if we take the minimum then on an average each seat will result in expenses of Rs 5 million, and for 542 seats it comes to Rs 2.7 billion.

Where is this money coming from? Will all the political parties show more than Rs 500 million by cheque? How much will be shown as coupon sale and how much as public donation? Is this money coming from hawala, commission-kickbacks, criminal activity and smuggling? Does any leader know and is there any system to check this inflow? There are few fig leafs left in this election, and as the alliance pattern had shown there are few rights and wrongs only winners and losers in a desperate power game.

Poor I K Gujral shows the sad plight we are in as he conducts official business in the government, sits in the Janata Dal political affairs committee but helps and assists RJD supremo Laloo Prasad Yadav, swears by secular credentials but seeks and secures the support of the Akali Dal for the Jalandhar seat and the Akali Dal is aligned to the BJP. The BJP does a somersault and passes the buck to the Akali Dal and show supreme opportunism! I K Gujral may win his seat but he has lost a great deal more!

The desperation for power and position hits every party, and every issue is sidetracked for the purpose of political power power at any cost! The past week shows the Congress getting its act together, the BJP obsessed with Sonia Gandhi, and the partners of the United Front making an attempt at unity which was sadly lacking in government. The Left partners show consistency while the DMK-TMC show confidence.

Arun Nehru's weekly forecast

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