It is hard to say who is pursuing the more stupid course -- the CPI-M in Kerala or the Congress in Andhra Pradesh, says T V R Shenoy.
What is going on in Andhra Pradesh and in Kerala? Why are its principal political parties covering their faces, only to stumble as they grope blindly?
Americans call it the 'perp walk', that moment when the police take a suspect through a wall of media photographers and the 'perp' -- the suspect -- tries to hide his or her face. Watch some news channel after a rave party is busted or somebody is arrested after a sex crime, and you can see the 'perp walk' in India too.
But politicians necessarily work in the limelight, and thus cannot be seen hiding their faces. A Raja did not throw a towel over his head as he was taken to Tihar jail and nor did Suresh Kalmadi. Jagan Mohan Reddy certainly did not do so when the Central Bureau of Investigation took him in (more on that later.) So, what does it say when a political party as a whole covers its face, cowering in the shadows?
You have to be in Kerala to see just how bad the situation is for the Communist Party of India-Marxist. It made the headlines even on the Hindi news channels when MM Mani, then the CPI-M's district secretary for Idukki, admitted at a public meeting that his party had a history of killing rivals. Comrade Mani was removed from his post on June 6 but the furore he caused has not died down.
What lesson has the CPI-M drawn from this incident? Have the Marxists foresworn the use of violence against all political rivals? Has the CPI-M made sincere attempts to cooperate with investigators in various cases of alleged political murders?
The chief lesson imbibed by the CPI-M following MM Mani's incautious remarks at Thodupuzha seems to be that it does not pay to come out in the open. This has led to the ludicrous sight of various CPI-M apologists appearing on television with their faces discreetly hidden as they try to offer various excuses to absolve their party.
Has the party absorbed any other lessons? It really does not look like it.
MV Jayarajan, a member of the CPI-M's state committee, had some advice for party members who might come under the police scanner. 'Store water mixed with chilli powder,' Comrade Jayarajan said, 'to counter policemen if they come to your houses to investigate!'
Does that sound like the CPI-M has turned away from the politics of violence?
And what of that other comrade, P Jayarajan, the CPI-M district secretary in Kannur, who said that the party would protect such party workers as were accused of murdering Muhammad Fazal? Has the party disowned him and removed him from his post?
P Jayarajan may or may not have been asked to account for his remarks, but the CPI-M was quick to ask for explanations from three members of VS Achuthanandan's personal staff. Their 'crime' apparently was 'leaking information' to the media, part of the ongoing turf battle between the former chief minister and Pinarayi Vijayan, the CPI-M party boss in Kerala.
What message is the CPI-M trying to send out? That it is perfectly in order for one of its district secretaries to ask his colleagues to defy the police, but that it is the gravest of sins to give information to journalists?
The VS Achuthanandan-Pinarayi Vijayan battle was on the agenda when the CPI-M central committee met in Delhi. Anticipating the outcry if it acted against the Marxist veteran, the party decided that it would take no action against VS Achuthanandan.
Readers of Deshabhimani, the CPI-M newspaper, would have had to hunt for this news. Why? Because the Marxist mouthpiece simply blanked out the news from its front page. Given that it was covered by all the other media -- print and electronic -- what was the point?
Deshabhimani seemed to be on a 'perp walk' of its own, covering its face -- only to stumble blindly.
The CPI-M, under VS Achuthanandan's leadership, exceeded expectations in the Kerala assembly polls of 2011. While the LDF lost, the CPI-M was still the single largest party in the assembly, winning 45 seats to the Congress's 38. Since then, however, its principal occupation seems to be cutting its own throat.
Frankly, it is hard to say who is pursuing the more stupid course -- the CPI-M in Kerala or the Congress in Andhra Pradesh. What exactly was the point in arresting Jagan Mohan Reddy just as 18 assembly seats and a single Lok Sabha constituency were going in for by-elections?
The imprisoned Jagan Mohan Reddy will claim that there is a sympathy wave in his favour if his YSR Congress does well. If the YSR Congress performs poorly the party has the option of saying that its chances were sabotaged by the Congress. The image of the ruling Congress takes a battering in either circumstance.
Couldn't the Congress have waited until after polling ended on June 12 to embroil Jagan Mohan Reddy in various corruption cases?
Jagan Mohan Reddy's supporters are instantly believed when they claim that their leader would be a free man -- possibly even a minister in the Congress government -- if he had not rebelled against the Congress 'high command'. But what arguments do Congressmen possess to level against Jagan Mohan Reddy?
Describing Jagan Mohan Reddy as corrupt offers no political gains. First, the Congress, whether in New Delhi or in Hyderabad, does not have a clean image. Second, the charges of corruption date to the time when YS Rajasekhara Reddy, Jagan Mohan Reddy's late father, was chief minister of Andhra Pradesh -- and nobody believes that his family alone were beneficiaries of the alleged corruption. (As many as 70 corporate houses are said to be under investigation for various deals made in YS Rajasekhara Reddy's tenure.)
Accusing Jagan Mohan Reddy of practising dynastic politics is even more ludicrous. Doing so simply draws sniggers as people then look at the Nehru-Gandhis' iron grasp on the Congress.
So, rather than fight Jagan Mohan Reddy with political weapons, the Congress has fallen back on using -- or misusing! -- the administrative machinery. That is suicidal in the long run.
There are some trends that may be drawn from events in Andhra Pradesh and in Kerala.
First, the public seems to sympathise with rebels -- VS Achuthanandan or Jagan Mohan Reddy -- against a monolithic party hierarchy. The lesson appears to be that voters like men who seek power through elections rather than draw power through nomination by someone in Delhi.
Second, it pays to be seen as cooperating with investigators rather than, literally and metaphorically, throwing chilli water in their eyes. Jagan Mohan Reddy has not criticised the CBI, the Enforcement Directorate, or any other agency; he has only pointed out that they are all reporting to Congress ministers -- a fact that cannot be denied. That is in stark contrast to the CPI-M.
Will the Congress, the CPI-M, and yes, the BJP too draw the appropriate lessons?