March 22, 2001


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Sajid Bhombal

Indian nationalism in US dollars

Immediately after Bangaru Laxman was named president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, he objected to the term 'Hindu nationalist party', widely used by the foreign media, to describe the party. The general perception was that, he objected to the word 'Hindu', as it bracketed the BJP as a party of Hindus.

After the Tehelka tapes, one may assume that perhaps he objected to both the 'Hindu' and 'nationalist' tags. He must have been aware that as party president, what he set out to do had nothing to do with either Hinduism or nationalism.

Corruption is widely spread in our political system. But this is the first time we saw the corruption with naked eyes. How pathetically greedy our so-called leaders were! We knew all this happens, but to watch it happen was shocking.

Laxman admitted to taking the money, not for himself but for the party. And the party has not denied it -- not yet.

And the very party of which Laxman was president and for which he took money in cash (read bribe) never lost an opportunity to shout 'nationalism, nationalism, nationalism', from any roof-top they could get access to.

The BJP saw nationalism (or lack of it) in everything -- in potato chips and computer chips. In the mandir and masjid. In spreading hatred in the name of religion and in expressing love on Valentine's Day. In beauty contests and in New Year celebrations.

They defined nationalism in every which way it suited them. Its leaders took the moral high ground and advised communities on what they should (or should not) do to get a certificate of nationalism. They projected themselves as flag-bearers of nationalism. Nobody could be more nationalist than them. Perhaps that needs re-phrasing. Nothing was nationalist, unless it fit their scheme of things. They marketed their idea of nationalism with unprecedented zeal.

There is a difference between marketing and sales. The BJP marketed nationalism and then became quite willing to sell the nation, for a few lakh rupees (or few thousand dollars).

The party also shouted slogans of swadeshi. Once in power, it sidelined swadeshi. The government was hungry for dollar investments. Not something its ideology dictated. In fact, contrary to it. But whatever its government did contrary to its ideology was immediately justified as 'in national interest'. Smart choice of words.

But not quite smart to hide the hypocrisy once the party president starts asking for bribes in US dollars. Someday, someone needs to suggest that S Gurumurthy of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch to launches an 'abhiyan' against corruption in 'videshi' currency.

"Bofors happened, they stayed. Chara ghotala happened, and they stayed. And they want this government to go, because it is honest," Venkaiah Naidu, former spokesman of the BJP and now a minister in the government protested.

Honest? Where does honesty come into the picture?

Well, it actually does. Wasn't Laxman honest enough to admit that he took cash on behalf of his party? Wasn't he honest enough to admit that a party like the BJP cannot survive without accepting cash (read bribes). Well, Laxman's line of defence is simple. Everybody does it. I was just caught doing it. Why single me out?

Well, fair enough. We know corruption is a part of our political system. We also know that cash is exchanged and favours are granted. Some politicians, in fact many of them, get away with it. Why single out Laxman and party?

Laxman missed the point entirely. People did not vote the BJP to power for nothing. Not all who voted the BJP agreed with its ideology. The BJP promised change and a clean government. The BJP marketed its ability to provide a government with a difference. And even though it did not have any backup to prove that it could indeed provide a government with a difference, as none of its state government was any different from the others, people believed in Vajpayee and voted for the BJP. They wanted change. The BJP failed to provide it.

Change did, however, take place. Instead of changing the system, the BJP changed itself. Quite rapidly at that. The BJP led government has not even completed a full term and it is involved in one of the worst corruption scandals in Indian history.

Does the government have a moral right to stay? Some experts have called for its ouster. Columnist Varsha Bhosle wants this government 'out, out, OUT'. Well, that is asking for too much. Morality has for long ceased to be associated with Indian politics. Like Laxman's rationalisation that parties like the BJP need cash (read bribes) to survive, probably one day someone will be bold enough to rationalise that corruption is a necessity for the survival of governments.

But it is not asking for too much if we simply ask the BJP to at least spare us from the heavy dose of nationalism. We can do away with those 'bhashans' given from a high moral ground. True, nationalism is too sacred to just keep talking about. One needs to walk that talk. Or simply stop talking.

The role of George Fernandes in this episode is disappointing. "He is not a sort of person who takes money,' Pramod Mahajan told us. Precisely. And that was exactly the problem with George Fernandes being defence minister. The clean image of Fernandes provided the safety net for the likes of Laxman and Jaya. Unfortunately, Fernandes allowed that to happen. With George Fernandes as defence minister, we could never imagine any 'ghotala' in defence deals. We never believed Vishnu Bhagwat, did we?

It took an extraordinary expose to believe what happens behind closed doors.

It cannot be a mere coincidence that Jaya Jaitly was president of Fernandes's party. George Fernandes should have sacked his party president before chairing a meeting to suspend defence officials. I know it sounds illogical. How can a minister sack the party president? But logic, like morality, has no place in Indian politics. George Fernandes may not have administrative powers to sack his party president, but he surely had the political power to remove her. Take out George Fernandes, and what is Samata Party?

Logic also takes a heavy beating when officers are suspended while political leaders are defended. If Laxman and Jaya did not commit any wrong, what wrong did those officers commit? Defies logic, no? Is greed for a Blue Label worse than greed for dollars?

George Fernandes talked about the morale of armed forces, Atal Bihari Vajpayee talked about the effect of these allegations (Are these mere allegations? We have actually seen the exchange of cash, we have heard defence deals being discussed and no one has denied it) on the stock market and Indian currency (well, they do care about the rupee also, not only dollars!).

I am still trying to figure out what exactly two of the most respected political leaders wanted to say. Both were correct. These exposes affect both, the morale of the armed forces and market sentiments. It is not easy not to get depressed, for the armed forces, once they see that the very nation they are willing to scarify their lives for, is being short-changed for a few thousand dollars. Markets lose ground when a nation loses confidence in itself.

But what was perplexing was that neither condemned the acts of their party presidents. What does one make out of it? Do these leaders try to say that these dirty deals should not be exposed? Do they want to say that all investigative journalists should shut down?

Yes, Prime Minister, what you said is right, but please try to act against those who are primarily responsible for this. And they happen to be colleagues.

What happens to India then? What happens to Indian nationalism when those self-proclaimed nationalists turned out to be hypocrites of the highest degree?

India has seen many crises. Every time there is a crisis, someone somewhere in India stands up and gives us some thing to cheer about. Last week was no different.

And what can be more cheerful than an Indian cricket victory. One man stood up and took on himself at Eden Gardens. He took all that was thrown at him by unarguably world's most hostile bowling attack, and produced an innings, which can only be termed as miracle. Ten (make it 13) of his colleagues then chipped in and produced a miracle victory. India stood up and applauded the man who gave the entire depressed nation something to cheer about. That man did not shout nationalism from any rooftop, he was humble in his achievement. And co-incidentally his name also happens to Laxman. One cartoonist put it superbly. VVS Laxman v/s Dubious Laxman.

In passing, two thoughts may not be misplaced here. India has been in the news internationally for its information technology achievements. It is heartening to know that dot.coms are also helping the nation exposing the rotten system. produced videos and exposed the dirty world of match-fixing and now the defence deals.

Last week, Prem Panicker reported that the Cricket Association of Bengal did not give Rifaat Jawaid of a press pass as the Board of Control for Cricket in India was upset with for exposing its various dirty dealings. It is doing much more than just making a few Indians millionaires.

Another thought is that lately our politicians have become camera savvy. After the Tehelka tapes, one wonders if they still have that love for camera. In this television crazy world, camera can make a politician's career and, well, break it as well!

You may also want to read
The key to stop the Aussies is to post good totals: V V S Laxman

Kya mach gaya? Tehelka!: Varsha Bhosle

Hubris!: Prem Panicker

The BJP is not like the Congress: Gurumurthy

I have no hand in any defence deal: Bangaru Laxman

I will not allow blackmailers to destroy this country: Jaya Jaitly

'George just does not know how to give up'

The Great Defence Scandal

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