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|December 29, 1997||
Has India decided to go saffron?
As far as India is concerned, the Bhartiya Janata Party is not just winning. It has already won the elections.
So sure are they about this prognosis that most newspapers are saying it upfront. At the risk of being proved wrong when the polls actually take place. So are poll pundits, astrologers, psephologists, tantriks, business forecasters, political analysts, media columnists, CIA moles, tarot card readers and reports filed by the Intelligence Bureau. And, of course, most Congressmen.
For Congressmen are their own worst critics. They love to believe the most obnoxious things about themselves and their leaders. Which is the reason why they are always the first to abandon ship. They scoot even before they find out whether the ship is actually leaking or not.
Mani Shankar Aiyar, yes the one with the big mouth, was the first one to go. He had his one minute of instant glory on TV, quitting the party he quit the foreign service to join. He was followed by his fellow Congressman from Tamil Nadu, P R Kumaramangalam, who did what he always does best. Telling the press why he can no longer stay in the party no one knew he was in, in the first place.
They were quickly followed by Suresh Kalmadi, who was (till the other day) busy trying to lead his ragtag band of nondescript Congressmen into the BJP. Today, he is equally busy holding media conferences and blaming Sitaram Kesri for driving the Congress deep into the dank hole of political oblivion. His hope? The BJP will give him a ticket to fight in Pune, now that Kesri has spat on him.
In Madhya Pradesh, Aslam Sher Khan and Dilip Singh Bhuria have also unabashedly headed towards the BJP, after delivering long homilies on why the Muslim and tribals feel so insecure with the Congress. In Tamil Nadu, Vazhapadi K Ramamurthy is back in Amma's ample arms. So is R Ravinder Verma, Congress leader from Pondicherry.
In West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee is shrieking her head off as usual. To proclaim how the Left Front is far more dangerous than the BJP. Which is a good enough excuse for her Trinamool Congress to seek an alliance with the BJP. Meanwhile, V P Singh's pet MP, Som Pal has quietly scuttled off, leaving his ailing leader, to swear undying allegiance to the very party Singh has tried to politically isolate. His new ambition: to fight Ajit Singh in Baghpat on a BJP ticket.
But that is not all. What is most amusing is watching this re-run of Michael Jackson's Thriller where assorted ghouls, each uglier than the other, are crawling out of their graves to breakdance to the new BJP anthem. Bhagwat Jha Azad, former chief minister of Bihar. Saifuddin Ahmed of the Asom Gana Parishad. B P Maurya. Devbrat Baruah. Vijay Shankar Dubey. Praful Patel. Anadi Charan Sahu. Mohan Delkar. Gopal Tandel. Pinaki Misra. Dead men walking. Running, you could almost say, towards the new dawn of the blooming lotus. No one wants to be left out.
Whether it is Lakshmi Parvati and her rump of the Telugu Desam in Andhra Pradesh. Or fat, greedy Jayalalitha and her All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham in Tamil Nadu. Or the Queen of Hysterics, Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress in West Bengal. Or the wimp charming, Naveen Patnaik and his Biju Janata Dal in Orissa. Or telephone tapper Ramakrishna Hegde and his Lok Shakti Dal in Karnataka. Everyone who has nowhere to go has now found the BJP.
All it now needs is Chandra Swami and Sukh Ram, Dawood Ibrahim and Harshad Mehta to complete its charmed circle of admirers.
For the Great Body Count is on. Retired army bosses. Muslim corporators. US senators. West Asian potentates. Popular columnists. They are all queuing up, it appears, to welcome the BJP to power.
Khushwant Singh, never one to miss a sycophantic opportunity, has already clambered onto the bandwagon, singing hosannahs to Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Behram Contractor, usually more circumspect in matters of politics, has welcomed the inevitability of a BJP regime. Star News has done such fancy footwork in recent weeks that it puts Baryshnikov to shame. Even R K Laxman, if you read between his brush strokes, has written off the Congress and the United Front. All that is now left is for M F Husain to paint a tryptich showing Vaypayee astride a tiger, defending the Babri masjid.
But the question remains: Has India decided to go saffron?
Frankly, I am not so sure. I am not so sure that India is ready to give up its complex, pluralistic politics for the sake of stability and boring one-party governance. That too, by the BJP and its new-found allies, each uglier than the other.
But there are three more important issues that the BJP has lost sight of.
One: Can it afford to give up its image as a party that does not believe in easy, immoral compromises? Will its moralistic, middle class vote bank accept these ugly alliances and still root for them? Will the BJP remain the BJP after opening its doors to every hustler in Indian politics, in its obsessive greed to grab power at any cost, any which way?
Two: Will the BJP cadres, a committed, moralistic lot who swear by the party's integrity, welcome among themselves these ghouls and crooks and carpetbaggers who are now coming in such huge numbers that they could well transform the entire culture of the party and make a mockery of its old idealism? What is more dangerous, they could eventually isolate the cadres and finish them off, to create a new look, amoral BJP.
Three: Once these new allies and friends of the BJP get voted to Parliament riding (let us say) the BJP wave, what stops them from then blackmailing the party and threatening to break away to form a powerful one-third that can negotiate terms with either the Congress or the United Front? In other words, the very stability that the BJP is hawking today contains, within itself, the seeds of its own downfall because it is based on unstable, irresponsible, untrustworthy allies and unscrupulous carpetbaggers who are migrating to the party, not for its ideology but for the opportunity it presents them to seize power from yet another political platform.
I wish the BJP well. The Congress has cheated India for over four decades. The UF, despite its best efforts, has not been able to stay in power for long enough to make a substantial impact. Maybe the BJP deserves a chance. After all, in power, everyone becomes more reasonable, more realistic, more responsible.
But does it make sense for the BJP to throw away decades of effort that went into building its cadre, its image, its loyal vote bank for coming to power at any cost? Does it need Congress discards, ghouls from the political graveyard, crooks, cheats, criminals to win a majority in Parliament? Or can it afford to wait and build upon its already considerable strengths to come power on its own terms, so that it can actually offer India stability and good governance. So that it retains the respect of its cadres, the goodwill of its voters and does not become --like the UF -- a victim of political blackmail and the sheer thuggery of numbers in Parliament.
The BJP cannot afford to make India into another Uttar Pradesh. Either for its own good. Or for India's.
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