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December 11, 1997


Varsha Bhosle

Beware the Ides of March...

Your friendly psycho is unhappy. If anything, I'm a champion of the underdog, and now, with the BJP perceived as the favourite, and with the Bihari Bandicoot's catastrophic Congress lurking at the bottom of the pile, I'm in a dilemma ("dhaarmik sankat" sounds better -- it's more melodramatic). After yet another spaced-out utterance from Vitthalrao Gadgil (eg, the UF forced elections on the country by rejecting the Big C's "reasonable suggestions"); after one more mai-baap reference to Sonia Gandhi; after the ubiquitous reminders of the nexus between erstwhile ministers and the Dubai don, I dash to throw up. No, the Congress is not an option.

Thing is, Establishment does not sit well on my shoulders. Since the day I started shooting off my mouth on politics, I more or less sat on the Opposition benches, progressively inching right with each nudge from 'com-div-fundie-forces'. But whether I was ranting against Sanjay Dutt's release or defending M F Husain's artistic privilege, I was happy in rubbing against the prevalent grain. For this jingoist, hell is not having a complex battle to wage. (No, don't say it; campaigns for public toilets are best left to the angels amongst us.)

Hmmm... actually, I needn't worry: The red maf... oops, media is not likely to ease up on M/s Thackeray and Advani. Tip: expect triple the amount of anti-Parivar reports and features, most of them breast-beating over a certain pile of bricks, during the months leading to the polls. Still, it frightens the heck out of me that the BJP could win, become entrenched, and I'd have no issue to get shot down for. Imagine an India where there's no dilly-dallying over the status of Kashmir, or the nuclear strategy, or Ram Janambhoomi, or the UCC, or the...

In your dreams.

Fact: the more "centrist" the BJP attempts to be, the more like the Congress it will become. For, in India, to be at the ideological centre is to have no convictions other than that of persisting in the Centre. With the prospect of the aya-Ram-gaya-Ram kind of manoeuvring looking bright, things look bleak, indeed. Therefore, fellow fundies, Beware the Ides of March... With ex-Nehruvians possibly filling the ranks, we could well get a trishul in our backs.

As I sit here chewing my nails and scanning the news, five items shout out at me from the front pages: One, Sonia Gandhi is likely to canvass for the polls. Two, the Congress will make "communalism" and "stability" their main electoral plank. Three, the United Front may project Jyoti Basu as the prime minister. Four, the BJP asks Muslims to give it a chance. Five, several Kashmiri militants are considering joining the BJP... All very propitious, if you ask me.

Since I like to think that the Indian voter is not an unmitigated ass, it's possible that items one and two will put paid to the Congress's hope of securing a majority: There's no harm in believing that the voter has seen through the fetid gas behind parroted mantras; that "stability" and "Congress" are paradoxical words; and that the locus standi of Sonia Gandhi is in severe question. In Maharashtra (we're a refractory lot here), Congress votes should come only from Pune's Sadashiv Peth brahmins (still self-flagellating over Nathuram Godse) and Sharad Pawar's sugar lobby. Elsewhere: Jai Shri Thackeray!

No doubt, the main tussle will be between the BJP and the UF -- Jyoti Basu vs Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Both gentlemen are respected as statesmen -- on their individual accounts. However, their party ideologies have far too many critics: One is a pinko; the other, a fundie. Equal-sequel. That is, as far as the voter goes. But where it comes to opinion-makers -- the real and persistent doorbell- ringers for any ideology -- the balance is tipped. For as I've established too often, the press is overrun by leftists. One can only hope that after the Election Commission's ban on posters, press barons will muzzle the writing corral's blatant distortions and propaganda sneaked in into what should be, but rarely is, bald reportage, in order to woo ads from all parties. For, whatever the stable may consist of, the boardroom, thank Mammon, is necessarily opportunistic and capitalist.

At least at this point of time, the future of the Indian polity depends upon the certitude of, more than any other group of people, the Election Commission. (I rather welcome the idea of a Seshan-like egotist at its helm). The august body *must* take a most serious view of goons being given tickets by parties, and weed out criminals from them.

Certainly, this should deplete the rosters of the Samajwadi Party. There's nothing more shameful than a former bandit being allowed to deliberate upon the nation's laws -- except for a most dubious specimen being the Union's defence minister. I cannot forget Mulayam Singh's ordering the IB to release the Islamic terrorists (including a Pakistani) arrested in a raid on the Muslim University in Lucknow. Not to forget Kanshi Ram's campaign to nail him for shielding his cadres in the Ayurveda scam and his alleged involvement in the attack on Mayawati in May 1995. The BSP had even sought Romesh Bhandari's transfer after he allegedly refused the CBI permission to proceed against one of Mulayam's cronies in the Ayurveda scam. To top it all, Mulayam himself was once charged with a most heinous crime in his Etwah days. This is the real tragedy of India: Every offense is forgivable under the "protection of minorities" hogwash.

However, I do believe that the gluing of fourteen disparate parties into a united bloc wasn't a terrible thing -- however perverted the reason for their banding together. It has given India a tripartite election, a thing I never thought possible. That this is the era of coalition governments, is a crock of excreta. A coalition can't really work in India: we aren't principled enough for it. Nor do I buy that "one party rule is a silly, washed up idea that only half-baked democracies yearn for." The democracy of Britain isn't "half-baked," Mr Nandy. Methinks, the bulk of us just need to be soundly whipped.

Will the patchwork league stay united if it came to power? I can't say. But for the diplomatic acumen of Chandrababu Naidu, I don't think it had a chance. The man gave the, er... entity an image: By the time the Bihari Bandicoot pulled the plug on Mr Gujral's government, the UF had actually begun to look like a single party! And that was the only reason for the Congress's frenzied withdrawal: The DMK business is pure humbug; not one of them cares about who was behind Rajiv Gandhi's assassination.

As for the Left Front, it is about to face the biggest-ever charge of financial scandals: The treasury scam, which could explode into a national issue like Bihar's fodder scam or UP's Ayurved scam, has already tarred the supposed probity of Jyoti Basu's government -- which is alleged to have diverted central funds meant for rural development to the personal leader accounts in the districts. It seems that the government had been doing so for the past two years to offer benefits to Marxist supporters in rural areas where the Panchayat elections are scheduled for next year. The amount diverted is around Rs 22 billion -- more than the malai skimmed in the fodder scam. And, when challenged, all the Left Front leaders, including Chief Minister Jyoti Basu, refused to disclose their assets in public...

For those who have relatives in Calcutta, none of this will come as a shock. It's not the first time that Mr Basu's government has had to defend itself against corruption charges: From 1982 to 1987, there was the potential Bengal Lamp scandal in which the chief suspect was Jyoti Basu's son, Chandan. The issue was raised by the late leader of the Revolutionary Socialist Party, Jatin Chakravarty, and the result was that Chakravarty was expelled from his own party. Period.

Then in 1995, came the multi-million Waqf property scam. Several Left Front leaders, including assembly speaker, Hasim Abdul Halim, figured in it. The Congress demanded a CBI inquiry into the issue, but the government pre-empted that with a judicial probe. And we all know what happens to those... The issue has been sealed. The only outcome was that the Left Front lost some assembly seats to the Congress in Muslim-dominated areas in the city and districts elections of 1996.

It's plain that the UF is no different from what we've suffered for half a century -- its godfather, finance minister and PM are ex-Congressmen, anyway. When secularists, while tom-tomming the UF as a viable alternative, mourn the culture of institutionalised corruption and rage against the moral bankruptcy of the Congress, what's the moral basis? How do they pitch for the likes of Laloo Prasad, Mohammed Taslimuddin, M V Raghavan, Phoolan Devi and Mulayam Singh...?

In the last 20 years, out of the 17 judicial probes instituted by the leftist government in Bengal, the results of only three probes (of the late 70s and early 80s) have been disclosed to the public. And that, too, in this decade. Therefore, why *must* it be Jyoti Basu, and not Mr Vajpayee?

I'll tell you why. For secularists, it's a matter of "my anti- Hindu party, right or wrong, and to hell with the rest." Integrity, stability and all such nice-nice words are just that: words. They would happily eat their aunts for their one-point programme. So I'm beginning to think, what's wrong if I play by their rules...? Why am I sitting on a high horse and ruing the newly acquired savvy of the BJP? As my dear grandmother would admonish: "Varsha, who's forcing you to be Harischandra's aulaad?" Who, indeed?

A friend said to me, "The BJP has to be a credible alternative to the rest of the bunch, or else what would be the point of supporting it?" I mused and concluded that if the BJP sticks to its guns (oooh, wrong metaphor...) and doesn't dilute its identity and principles, it has a darn good chance. If it loses, then the janata-janardhan hasn't yet been able to sort the tricks from the bricks -- and it never will. In truth, I'd rather see the BJP, yet again, in the Opposition than for it to become a Congress-clone... And this is how most of the BJP's voters think. Hey, its voter- profile, too, has class! (Oooh, wrong word...)

But, this is what I'll do: Though I'll never stop criticising the BJP when it annoys me, I will vote for it, come what may. If Nehruvians can be so committed, no reason why I should hesitate. Sure, the BJP has stepped down to wrestle in the mud. But remember Sun Tzu: "Water shapes its course according to the nature of the ground over which it flows; the soldier works out his victory in relation to the foe whom he is facing. Therefore, just as water retains no constant shape, so in warfare there are no constant conditions." And for the BJP, the election is war, make no mistake.

Varsha Bhosle

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