July 11, 2000


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Different Tunes

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Sajid Bhombal

Idiots are running this country, absolute idiots,'' roars the Tiger. Considering Bal Thakeray's and the Shiv Sena's long association with the Bharatiya Janata Party, one cannot take his statement lightly. Thakeray's anger is understandable -- and I am not referring to his anger over *third rate portfolios* given to his party.

By indulging in typical BJP *double-speak*, the BJP has fooled many people on its way to power. The soft handling of the Jammu and Kashmir autonomy issue is just an example. But they are not *idiots* -- for sure. They are a bunch of smart guys, suitably backed by, what columnist Varsha Bhosle described as the brainiest organisation in India, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. And it takes brains to act smart.

Let us look at some issues on which the BJP is playing different tunes since it is in power. It is not my case to say whether the change of tunes is for better or for worse; I will leave that to experts. I am just writing about the BJP's double-speak, for better or for worse.

Let us look at three phases of the BJP-led government and the *double-speaks* are noticed in almost every major issue.

Phase # 1 lasted only 13 days. Only significant thing during those 13 days was A B Vajpayee's address to Parliament during the confidence vote. A newspaper headline summed it up very nicely: Vajpayee loses power, wins hearts.

Phase # 2 lasted 13 months.

Phase # 3. When elections were forced on the nation by a brief tea meeting between two ladies, the BJP had its golden chance. The past 13-month's performance was not that bad. Nuclear bombs and Kargil helped a lot. The opposition was almost in disarray, the Congress, the oldest national party, was leaderless and radar-less (which it still is), the Third Front got divided into as many groups as it had leaders. And in the previous 13 months, there was virtually no opposition; whatever opposition was there, it was from *within*. And foolishly, the Congress projected an Italian housewife as leader against Vajpayee and turned the election into a Vajpayee v/s Sonia issue. The BJP would have well taken a lesson from market economics and offered a package deal to voters: "Vote us to power and get an opposition free."

It does not get easier than that. The BJP obviously knew this. Overconfidence was visible. Union Home Minister L K Advani, who assured us that the BJP could form a coalition government, started assuring something different. He assured that even if the BJP gets a majority on its own, it would still form the government with coalition partners.

The result, as it came out, was something different. The BJP remained where it was and the coalition partners marched ahead at the cost of the Congress (and well, also at the cost of the Third Front, whatever was left by then). There was a lesson for the BJP in those results, but that is a different topic altogether. Let me get on to that *double-speak* syndrome.

Let us look at BJP-led governments handling important issues. Let us start with external affairs (by now, the BJP must be feeling that handling *external* affairs is easier than handling *internal* ones).

Jaswant Singh, initially kept out of the cabinet at the insistence of the RSS, has done a great job in a short time. And a significant development is improving ties with the United States. And that involved a lot of smiling!

Here is example number one of *double-speak*. Those smiles!!!. When I K Gujral was seen smiling with the US secretary of state, Sushma Swaraj, the then spoke person of the BJP (where is she?), asked -- in a typically Sushma Swaraj way -- *Is hasin ke piche kya hai?* (What is behind this smile?), implying that there was a back-door understanding with the US, which as she elaborated, is not in the nation's best interest.

It is high time somebody ask Sushmaji and the party, *Ab hasin ke peeche kya hain?* (What is behind all these smiles nowadays?).

Let us take Pakistan. For years, nobody knew what was our government's stand vis-a-vis Pakistan, specially its promotion of cross-border terrorism. For years, the BJP told us its plans to handle Pakistan. Taking a *friendly* bus-ride to Pakistan by the prime minister definitely wasn't one of them. But Vajpayee, the BJP Prime Minister of India, did take a *friendly* bus-ride to Pakistan (eventually the bus landed at Kandahar via Kargil is a different story).

Look at the *double-speak* here. When Gujral started making friendly gestures towards Pakistan, the BJP termed him the "First Pakistani Prime Minister of India".

Their own prime minister takes a *friendly bus* to Lahore, and this is termed as a significant development towards peace in the sub-continent!

The BJP Prime Minister of India takes a firm stand on Pakistan's cricket tour of India and rightly so, it is just a sport. But he and his home minister give separate parties to the Pakistani team (And who can forget that LKA joke that *he and Ram Jethmalani are the "real" Pakistanis*!!). Why? They did not give parties to teams from New Zealand or South Africa, did they?

Imagine Gujral taking a firm stand on Pakistan's tour and gives a party in their honour! "Just imagine a typical Sushma Swaraj remark!

What is the BJP's policy vis-a-vis Pakistan? Nobody knows!

Let us take the economy. The BJP is doing a fine job of advancing the liberalisation process initiated by Dr Manmohan Singh. Wasn't it this very party that opposed his policies? And where is swadeshi? Where are Jay Dubashi and Gurumurthy? For years, they were the economic and financial voices of the BJP. Where are they now? How come the very process which was not in national interest suddenly changed into something which is in national interest after the BJP came to power?

Take education. The BJP-led government did not find a separate ministry of education necessary in a country where illiteracy is as high as 35-40 per cent. There is no single plan so far by the ministry of human resources for improving the educational system. Murli Manohar Joshi is busy debating *Saraswati Vandanas* and history books. And the tragic part is, Minister of State for Human Resource Development Uma Bharti did not attend office for more than four out of 13 months due to differences with Joshi (that she is currently out of the ministry is a different issue). And we are talking about a ministry that should be the most important.

Both ministers involved are from the BJP and are not alliance partners. And the BJP made such a hue and cry over deteriorating educational standards in the country.

Take corruption. The BJP stalled Parliament for more than three days over the Sukh Ram issue. Today, the same Sukh Ram is the BJP's alliance partner.

And, of course, J Jayalalitha. The only time Jayalalitha was not corrupt and was infact a victim of political vendetta was when she had an alliance with the BJP!

That brings me to the most important issue. Internal security. It is important on two counts.

1. Simply because it deals with the internal security of the country, safety and security of the citizens.

2. Because it is headed by a person who is projected as Sardar Patel No 2 (whatever that means) by his party. L K Advani. Very interesting personality.

For more than two years, Advaniji is in charge of internal security and he still thinks he is in the opposition. When the nation faced one of the worst crises, during the plane hijacking in December last year, Advaniji forgot that he was in charge of internal security and was responsible for whatever actions had to be taken at Amritsar while the plane landed there.

Once the plane flew out of India, there was little India could do, especially when the plane lands in a place like Khandahar. Advaniji , infact, got busy telling us how our "state has become soft". Why? You are in charge sir, in charge for more than two years? Tell us an action plan you have drafted, let alone implemented? You are the *hard* sort of guy. At least your party tells us that. Then where are your *hard* actions? We haven't seen any.

Every time there is a crisis, Advaniji keeps telling us about the *possibility* of a foreign hand (read Pakistan/Inter-Services Intelligence). May be yes. But is that a solution in itself? Is the ISI running our country?

When there are attacks on minorities, mostly Christian missionaries in recent times, Advaniji is more busy in absolving the Bajrang Dal/Vishwa Hindu Parishad than taking concrete action.

So much of the *double-speaks*, and I haven't yet touched on the "three issues" every BJP leader from Kashmir to Kanyakumari was shouting about. The party says they are on the *agenda*, the government says, they are not. The Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister keeping talking in different tunes, suitable for each occasion, the central government contradicting him.

I know it is an NDA government, not a BJP government. But the BJP is leading it.

Let us look at *star performers* of this government and we will see how hollow is the BJP's claim to provide us a government with a *difference*.

Start with Prime Minister A B Vajpayee, who will never be prime minister if the BJP forms a government on its own -- and I don't have to be a political pundit to know that. Jaswant Singh -- "ditto". George Fernandes is not a BJP man. Yashwant Sinha, a new recruit, not an original BJP man. Kumarmangalam - "ditto". Other ministries are just carrying on, including the all-important home ministry.

Where are the BJP leaders then? Sushma Swaraj -- disappeared (wasn't it M J Akbar who described Swaraj as "one person who is perfectly capable of reaching nowhere in the BJP?). Pramod Mahajan - In and Out (Oh yes, in a typical Congress style, was accommodated as a political advisor to the PM when he lost the elections, and he took his designation more seriously than his job, and literally started advising Vajpayee on issues ranging from nuclear bombs to potato chips. The rest is history). Uma Bharti - Where is she? Madan Lal Khurana - the late Rajesh Pilot's words to him - "Jo halat aap ki udher hain, hamari idhar hain" -- (The Asian Age). Govindacharya -- where is he? (Probably improving his already refined Hindi!).

Let us look at states ruled by the BJP. Gupta's (who?) government is UP is not really any different from that of Mayawati or Mulayam. Sheila Dikshit is not running Delhi any worse than Madan Lal Khurana or Saheb Singh Verma (and yes briefly by Swaraj). The BJP-Shiv Sena (sorry Shiv Sena-BJP) government did not really give any laurels to the BJP. The Keshubhai Patel government can hardly be described as any different from previous governments in Gujarat. Madhya Pradesh under the BJP was no different than under the Congress, and the same for Rajasthan.

Then what is this *governance with a difference* the BJP talks about? Only the BJP knows!

Sajid Bhombal is an engineer, and a regular rediffer

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