All politics is local politics.' So said Tip O'Neill, once the Speaker of the House of Representatives in the United States Congress.
For various complicated reasons I have had a whirlwind tour of the four southern states over the past nine days. Speaking to various people has offered living proof that O'Neill's dictum holds true 20 years later and half a world away.
In just a little over three months the campaign will be done and dusted and a new Lok Sabha will have been elected. You would imagine under the circumstances that this would serve to focus everyone's mind on the same key issues. Not a bit of it!
In Tamil Nadu I found politicians manoeuvring for space over the issue of support to the beleaguered Tamilians of Sri Lanka [Images]. We all know perfectly well that this is essentially pointless because there is no way that the Government of India is going to intervene militarily -- and it is hard to see what else might stop the Sri Lankan army in its tracks.
Colombo has made it abundantly clear that it is out to 'exterminate' the LTTE [Images], civilian casualties be damned. Even much throat-clearing from the United Nations has evoked nothing but soothing noises from Sri Lanka.
Readers may remember that I had written at greater length on this subject as far back as October. I am, therefore, not in the least surprised that both the DMK and its breakaway offspring the MDMK are dancing around the subject with an eye to the general election. Only Jayalalithaa's well known and utterly consistent dislike for the LTTE in general and Prabhakaran in particular has prevented emotions from spilling over.
As a rule, a ruling party beats the ethnic drum only when it has precious little to speak of when it comes to actual governance. I suspect the DMK might be tempted to blow up the Sri Lankan issue if only to divert attention from other issues, not least the family squabbles within the ruling family and allegations of corruption.
Sri Lanka might as well be in South America for all that you get to hear about it once you cross the border to enter Andhra Pradesh. Here, predictably, everyone seems to have eyes and ears only for the ongoing saga of Satyam [Get Quote] and the Raju clan. The reverberations in the markets will be whatever they shall be, how about the political fallout?
Ramalinga Raju [Images], by all accounts, had a close relationship with the current chief minister, Y S Rajasekhara Reddy. But did that friendship ever cross the line? You can be sure that allegations of corruption will be flung left, right, and centre as the polls draw closer, with immense scrutiny over all the land deals made by the Raju family. (While rebutting allegations of corruption I am sure some in the chief minister's camp will accuse opponents of insensitivity towards Satyam's 53,000 employees -- even if some of those people turn out to be phantoms existing only in Ramalinga Raju's imagination!)
I will not be terribly surprised, by the way, if there is some kind of a backlash, with attempts at painting Ramalinga Raju as the son of soil who made good only to be brought down by outsiders. There are already murmurs to this effect in some places, and the whispers shall be ever louder if Satyam is sold to an organisation based outside Andhra Pradesh.
E Sreedharan, as I wrote a few weeks ago, denounced the Rajasekhara Reddy ministry's land dealing with Maytas over the Hyderabad Metro as 'selling the family silver.' It will be ironic if the same charge is made when Satyam is sold off as seems inevitable.
In Karnataka, it goes without saying, the debate over 'pub culture' is all the rage following the attack on women in Mangalore by some zealous vigilantes. It will be painted in starkly polarised terms, one side denouncing the other as the 'Indian Taliban' [Images] and the other side reciprocating by saying that the pub-goers are bringing down Indian culture.
Frankly, I wish we could get over this idiotic obsession with alcohol. If you think it is harmful, go ahead and ban it altogether. But as long as it is permitted everyone of legal age -- women included -- has the right to enter a pub. The anti-alcohol, men-and-women-should-not-hold-hands vigilantes would have been well within their rights to sit in a peaceful protest outside every pub and bar, but they crossed the line when they dared to actually hit anyone.
That said, I am willing to wager that the over-the-top reaction of the 'progressive,' 'secular' elements will cause a backlash too.
Finally, in my home state of Kerala [Images] it is still the SNC-Lavalin scandal that continues to grab eyes and ears. The waters have been further muddied with rumours that the V S Achuthanandan camp is all set for a showdown with the Pinarayi Vijayan loyalists, and the infighting is the undoubted cause behind the careful leaks about the chief minister's daughter.
Can I say something to all my fellow South Indians? All four issues are diversionary tactics designed to fool you!
What are the actual issues of the day? It can be summed up in a single word, actually, namely 'security'.
Are you assured about job security in the midst of the greatest economic conflagration since the Great Depression? Are you assured about your physical security in the greatest threat to India since Partition, namely terrorism, Naxalism, organised crime, and the nexus between all three? And how do corruption and sloth in the very structure of government affect both these kinds of security?
This election should not be about specifically Ramalinga Raju, or SNC-Lavalin, or Prabhakaran, or (most trivial of all) 'pub culture'. It should be about changing the system that makes all that rubbish possible in the first instance -- which is possible only through providing a decent government. Why do you think most political parties shy away from that topic?
There is a time and a place for local politics, but, please, let it not be the Lok Sabha elections!