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February 16, 1998


Pritish Nandy

Lies, damned lies, and politics

There are lies, damned lies and politics. There is no better example of this than at election time. Listen to the rhetoric and then ask yourself, hand on your heart, how much of it you actually believe?

Take Sonia Gandhi. She denies, a decade too late, that she or her husband got any kickbacks from the Bofors deal. Given half a chance, she, I am sure, will also deny having known or met the Quattrocchis, who (it is now established beyond all reasonable doubt) were the main beneficiaries from the purchase of the 155 mm howitzers from Sweden.

But backing her today is not just Congressmen. She has found sympathy from a new source: Rajiv's main tormenter V P Singh, who (I distinctly remember during his campaign trail) went from meeting to meeting in Bihar and UP, where he would, at the end of his dramatic spiel about the venality of the Congress and its leaders, whip out his electronic pocket diary and read out Rajiv's Swiss bank account number.

Singh promised the nation that, if elected, he would reveal all about Bofors, bring the money back from Switzerland and punish the bribe takers within six months. Of course he did nothing of the sort. In fact, he got angry every time this was pointed this out and today, a decade later, he is the first to give Sonia a clean chit. Why? You may well ask. The reason is obvious. Singh is hoping (as usual) to stitch together yet another fragile and unprincipled Congress-United Front coalition of which he can be theBhishmapitamah. Greed, not lofty principles, guides this sick man who lives on dialysis every alternate day.

All he wants is to be in power at any cost. If this means giving Sonia a clean chit, so be it.

Now, let's look at the BJP's star campaigner, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. On my recent show, Face Off, he openly declared that he would never compromise on principles. If necessary, he would bring on the army to stop those who intend to vandalise the mosques in Kashi and Mathura in the name of Hindutva. But, on his election trail, he has been saying entirely opposite things. Trying his best to prove that there is no great hiatus between his faction and that led by the more belligerent Advani. Actually the whole world knows that there is war out there between the two. But neither will admit to it. Not at election time.

Vajpayee says he never lies. Then how come the charges against him of apologising to the British during the Freedom Struggle are gaining ground? How come most people see him as his party's popular mask hiding its real vicious intent? How come he never says anything that even remotely sounds real and convincing?

But why blame him? Does Sonia ever say anything that sounds real and convincing? She apologises for the anti-Sikh riots. On the same day, she ushers H K L Bhagat into the Congress. She refutes that the Congress is a corrupt party. Yet, she fields her pet anaconda Satish Sharma, from her pocket borough, Amethi. Against Sanjay Singh of the Syed Modi murder fame and now a BJP candidate!

Watch Sonia on Doordarshan and she sounds like a ventriloquist's doll. It seems as if they dubbed her afresh to get her pronunciation right. In any case, she who blames Vajpayee for lying is herself lying through her teeth all the time. It was she who set up Arjun Singh to pull the plug on Gujral under the pretext of the Jain Commission findings. Exactly as Kesri pulled down Deve Gowda earlier to cover up the fact that the CBI was all set to nail him for his role in a murder case.

But, then, lies are the real face of politics and all those who are not much good at them have no business being in public life. Every democracy flourishes under liars, hypocrites, thieves and history sheeters.

Even the tamashabins play the same games. Vinod Khanna promises drinking water and schools for girls in every Punjab village even as he downs his Bisleri (mineral water) in the quiet comfort of his air conditioned Sumo. Rajesh Khanna romps around with his estranged wife and film star daughter pretending to be the model husband before disbelieving villagers in Bihar and Orissa. Shatrughan Sinha treats the entire Gangetic plains as a neon-lit set for his Shotgun Show, throwing in clever one-liners for effect and pretending that Hindustan can be won over with a glib turn of phrase. Raj Babbar stands up in election podiums to campaign beside the hoods and history sheeters of the Samajwadi Party in UP.

Dara Singh has switched loyalties overnight and is flexing his muscles for the BJP in the hope of getting a role to play if the saffron brigade comes to power at the Centre. While, in the South, all the pretty little things are on the campaign trail. Vijayshanti for the BJP, Jayaprada for the TDP, Revathi and Gouthami for who knows what.

Where does that leave the rest? Gujral campaigns in Jalandhar, openly saying that the Akali Dal is not a communal party. He is silent about the role of the BJP, the Dal's political ally and the United Front's sworn enemy. The same United Front that he leads. Mulayam Singh sermonises against the BJP but refuses to join a secular front that can defeat it at the hustings.

As a result, you get one BJP or BJP-backed candidate fighting many others, who will split the votes among themselves to ensure that the BJP candidate romps home. Laloo Prasad campaigns for his once bitterest foe, the Congress, and promises to deliver a Congress-led United Front at the Centre. Jyoti Basu rails against Sonia but Surjeet, his Politburo colleague, is already singing paeans to her.

Kanshi Ram is keeping all his options open so that whoever may lose, he wins in the end. By joining any coalition that gives him and Mayawati political play. In real life, we call this blackmail. In politics, it is described as sagacity.

The idea of a BJP-led coalition at the Centre frightens me. For I know the election masks will promptly fall off and you will get a government as unscrupulous, as disgusting and loathsome as UP has got under the BJP, Vajpayee's promises notwithstanding.

At the same time, I am equally disgusted at the idea of a Congress-led coalition, where every crook, every carpetbagger will be back in action, strutting about the corridors of power. Convinced that the nation has, once again, given them a mandate to loot.

So what are the options before India? A coalition led by communalists and history sheeters versus a coalition led by crooks and carpetbaggers. Frightening na? Well, yes and no.

Yes, because every election throws up a new, loathsome lot of MPs, with increasing numbers criminally inclined. No, because India has always survived its netas. Its inherent strengths, its powerful institutions (which have survived even vandals like Indira Gandhi) always come to the rescue of its people whatever may be the political choice that they, in their misguided wisdom, exercise at election time.

That is the magic of parliamentary democracy. The power of an informed electorate.

Luckily for India, we are poor and uneducated but we are not fools. We are politically savvy. No one can make monkeys out of us. Our leaders try. They try like hell. But, ultimately, you and I decide what we want to make out of India. That is why it is important, vitally important that you go out and vote for whoever you want. But vote so that no one can take you for granted.


Pritish Nandy

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