H R Bhardwaj's exalted opinion of himself and Rahul Gandhi's exaggeration have done far worse than strengthen the chief ministers they claim to oppose, says T V R Shenoy.
'England has no greater friend than Napoleon,' growled the Russian commander Kutuzov, 'She who is already mistress of the seas will now dominate the land too thanks to that scoundrel.'
Kutuzov died in 1813, well before Wellington drove the final nail into the French emperor's coffin. But the Russian's strategic insight was on target; the true legacy of Napoleon, supposedly Britain's greatest foe to date, was a century of British dominance, political, economic, and military alike.
We are not talking about the conquest of a continent, leave alone the global mastery that Napoleon sought and Britain gained, but could Kutuzov's strategic insight apply to 21st century Indian politics too? Could the exaggerated belief in one's own powers work to the ultimate benefit of one's chosen foes?
There is every chance that two chief ministers -- Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh and B S Yeddyurappa in Karnataka -- could profit from the mistakes of their enemies.
The chief minister of Uttar Pradesh was in a lot of trouble over the land acquisition issue. The NOIDA agitation threatened to be every bit as damning to the Bahujan Samaj Party as Nandigram and Singur to the Left Front. And then Rahul Gandhi came riding to her rescue.
Whatever the motives of the Nehru-Gandhi scion -- genuine concern for the farmers, or a diversionary tactic to take attention away from the relatively poor results in the South, or some combination of the two -- Rahul Gandhi overreached. Expressing support for people deprived of their ancestral land is one thing, claims of killing and rape on a fairly large scale are something else altogether.
This was a blessing for the Bahujan Samaj Party. Rather than focus on the issue of forcible acquisition of land and the nexus between the government and real estate developers, the media spun around to talk about the pile of ashes that Rahul Gandhi had seen, the bodies that were allegedly buried in that pit, and the multiple rapes that had supposedly occurred.
For the record, I think there is some substance to the allegations. The police of every state has occasionally been guilty of unwarranted brutality. But the sheer scale of the reported wrongdoing in the Bhatta-Parsaul area -- unless there is immense evidence at hand -- smells of exaggeration.
Another of Rahul Gandhi's unwitting achievements was the scaling down of the opposition to the Mayawati government. Before he stepped in there had been several attacks on her land acquisition policy by the Bharatiya Janata Party, by the Samajwadi Party, and by Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal.
Taken aback by the Congress heir's grandstanding, these voices are muted if not silenced. And Mayawati herself has now come out on the attack, asking just why the Manmohan Singh ministry has not bought out a revised Land Acquisition Bill despite promising one for several years.
As I said, we need not question Rahul Gandhi's motives, which might be good. But his strategic overreach has left even Congress spokesmen scrambling for answers.
There is, however, no room for doubt when it comes to Karnataka, where the Union Cabinet has been forced to overrule the recommendations of the all too zealous governor of the state, Hansraj Bhardwaj. In Karnataka as in Uttar Pradesh the beneficiary is an embattled chief minister.
B S Yeddyurappa is not going to make the Top Five if an unbiased observer should rate India's chief ministers. Many of his problems start with dissent in his own party, and I have lost count of the times that BJP MLAs from Karnataka have risen in rebellion.
Yeddyurappa seems to have found a saviour in the form of the governor. Hansraj Bhardwaj's actions have been so over the top that everyone has lost sight of the charges levelled against the chief minister.
The grand culmination came in Bhardwaj's recommendation to impose President's Rule while admitting that B S Yeddyurappa is backed by a majority of MLAs. This was too much even for the Congress ministers in the Union Cabinet, and there was no option but to reject the governor's suggestion.
What is the result of Hansraj Bhardwaj's campaign? He has destroyed any credibility that he himself might have, and sullied the reputation of his post. He has allowed the chief minister of Karnataka to stand forth as the champion of democracy and federalism. He has permitted B S Yeddyurappa to paint him as an 'outsider', trying to interfere in Karnataka on orders from New Delhi.
After two years of activism by Hansraj Bhardwaj the results could be seen in the Jagalur, Bangarpet, and Chennapatna by-elections. These were won by either the Congress or the Janata Dal-Secular in the full-blown assembly polls; all three fell to the BJP in the by-polls -- at least partly because Yeddyurappa successfully painted both those parties as the governor's cat's-paws.
There is a time for political theatrics and there is a time for working quietly behind the scenes. Rahul Gandhi tried the latter in the run-up to the last Lok Sabha polls -- and pulled off a Congress revival in Uttar Pradesh. Why is he changing tactics now?
Hansraj Bhardwaj's exalted opinion of himself and Rahul Gandhi's exaggeration have done far worse than strengthen the chief ministers they claim to oppose, they have also diverted attention from the all too real issues of governance. Mayawati and B S Yeddyurappa could have asked for no better foes than these two.