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Is Vajpayee a poor poet?
June 09, 2004
THE DEBATE OVER Atal Bihari Vajpayee's legacy as prime minister seems to be split between those who think his masterly inaction during the slaughter of the lambs in Gujarat revealed his true colours, and those who feel that that 'aberration' should not cloud his larger achievement of making us feel good. In a way, that's a bit like asking the world to ignore the Holocaust while evaluating Hitler because he gave us the Volkswagen Beetle, didn't he? It's unfair, of course, that Vajpayee's feat as the first non-Congress PM to complete a full term with 23 parties in tow should be judged by what he did (or didn't) do during two months of 2002. But history is a cruel judge, unless Murli Manohar Joshi gets his henchmen to rewrite the books again.
While it is understandable that Vajpayee's record as PM should be so evenly contested in a country that entrusted the two main parties with just 283 of the 543 seats, should Vajpayee's record as a poet provoke as pungent a debate? The Kannada writer U R Anantha Murthy has called ABV a kalpe kavi, which roughly translated means a poor if not pathetic poet, and needless to say it has had the BJP breathing fire. That a party which has sought to justify even the grossest protest by its lunatic fringe in the name of freedom of expression should feel so incensed by the criticism of a Jnanpith Award winner who is eminently qualified on speak on the subject is telling. But it's the bid to paint Vajpayee as a superman who could do no wrong, either as PM or as poet, which shows that the BJP has become, like the Congress, a sad victim of AIDS: Adoration, Idol worship, Deification and Sycophancy.
When Lata Mangeshkar stands up and proclaims that 'Lata' read backwards adds up to 'Atal'; when Girish Karnad narrates Abdul Kalam's Wings of Fire on tape; when 'writers' crawl out of the woodwork to pen instant hagiographies of PMs and Presidents, we are seeing our intellectual set at their sycophantic worst. Thankfully, Anantha Murthy has bucked the trend in speaking his mind. So what if the BJP says he found his voice only when his overtures to the NDA government to make him ambassador to France were spurned? And, hey, what use is 8 percent GDP growth or 100 billion dollars in forex reserves if people still have carry human excreta on their heads in the PM's own constituency to earn a living?
WHAT ARE ELECTIONS FOR?
IS KULDIP NAYAR barking up the wrong tree in contesting the August 2003 amendment to the Representation of the People Act that says a person seeking to get elected to the Rajya Sabha need not be a resident of that particular state? Doubtless, the Supreme Court has stayed the Rajya Sabha election based on Nayar's letter-turned-petition and the Election Commission wants the stay lifted because two rounds of Rajya Sabha elections have been held after the said amendment and under Article 329 (b) of the Constitution no court can interfere once the election process starts. But the big question that needs to be addressed is whether domicile status should be made a prerequisite not just for the Upper House but the Lower House as well?
It can be argued that good but unelectable people (like Manmohan Singh, maybe?) will not be part of the law-making process if it is made mandatory for Rajya Sabha members to belong to the states they represent, such being the peculiar dynamics of our political process. Nevertheless, should the domicile status be so elastic for Lok Sabha MPs or MLAs? Take the case of S M Krishna. The former Karnataka chief minister represented his home-town, Maddur, in the last assembly. But when the tide began to turn against the Congress, when questions began to be asked about what he had done for his constituency (where like Vajpayee's Lucknow, night-soil carriers still exist), Krishna just upped and left, and stood from Chamarajpet. He won from there, of course, but if this is how an MLA chooses to escape accountability for his performance, what are elections for?
But it is Krishna's claim that as CM that he could not concentrate on Maddur, which is 70 km from Bangalore, and that he could do so better from Chamarajpet, which is within Bangalore, that takes the breath away. If all CMs were to use a similar excuse and stand for elections from their respective capitals, whatever happens to farflung regions in their states crying out for chief ministerial representation? Meanwhile, the recently-elected Chamarajpet MLA is now being spoken of as a possible Congress candidate for the very Rajya Sabha election which have been stymied by Nayar's petition.
S M KRISHNA'S CANDIDATURE for the Rajya Sabha election is pure speculation at the moment. But if the Congress ejects him from the state assembly and plonks him in the Rajya Sabha shouldn't the party bear the costs for the by-election that will be necessitated? It's the kind of issue our parties are understandably reluctant to broach, but it's the kind of issue that bounces into the reckoning each time a VIP candidate like Laloo Prasad Yadav or Jayalalithaa or Sonia Gandhi stands from two constituencies, and has to vacate one for the other upon election from both. Witness Mulayam Singh who won an Lok Sabha seat but has now decided to quit to 'concentrate' on Uttar Pradesh. Standing from two or more constituencies has become a matter of prestige for a few, a matter of strategy for some, and a matter of insecurity for others. Why should We, the People underwrite their egos, plans or fears?
SEEING AMITABH BACHCHAN sign up as brand-ambassador for yet another product, this time Eveready batteries, a simple thought comes to mind. Does anybody buy products any longer because of the superstars who 'endorse' them? Even as we speak, Mr Bachchan is an envoy for Parker, Dabur, Cadbury's and what-have-you, and every third commercial on television seems to have Mr Bachchan in it. But, like with Sachin Tendulkar, he only seems to endorse successful products of well-established companies. It is true that only such companies can afford their services and the endorsements are to create brand awareness, loyalty and recall, not to push sales. Be that as it may, the real test of Mr Bachchan (or Mr Tendulkar's) draw lies in their ability to move millions into loosening their purse strings to purchase new products. Does the fate of the Maruti Versa or lately of TVS Motorcycles offer a barometer to that ability?
GOODBYE AND GOD BLESS
THIS COLUMNIST DOFFS his non-existent hat to Bhupen Hazarika for deciding to bid adieu to politics, saying the world of music and arts beckoned him, but not without exhorting 'all you people young, middle-aged and old' to carry on the flaming torch of patriotism and idealism. No 'celebrity' smitten by the power bug has shown such lack of stamina in the face of electoral defeat. Maybe the brand-ambassadors of Boost should have a quiet word with the 'Bard from Brahmaputra' on the secret of their energy. Or we should thank Bhupenda for leaving us in no doubt as to why entered politics in the first place.