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January 9, 1998


T V R Shenoy

It's easier becoming the PM than a Lok Sabha MP

If you make the right 'secular' noises it is fairly easy to rise to the exalted heights of prime ministership. But it is much, much tougher to become a Lok Sabha MP.

Just ask Gujral, Chandra Shekhar, or Narasimha Rao. Each of them was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice and enter Race Course at the behest of their party. (Personal ambitions never seemed to enter their calculations!)

But such nonsense doesn't go down very well with the voters. Governments are elected to perform essential tasks like maintaining peace, ensuring the borders are secure, and keeping the economy on an even keel. When ministers fail in these duties, speeches about 'communal forces' are no substitute. So when elections approach, these politicians chuck up their precious principles.

Let us start a sample survey with the current occupant of Race Course road, a man denied a Lok Sabha ticket by his own party in 1996. Gujral became prime minister because every other potential candidate was vetoed by either the CPI-M or the Congress. But they couldn't say that openly.

Comrade Harkishen Singh Surjeet came up with a gem of an explanation. The main fight, he explained, would be against the BJP and its allies in north India. So the United Front had come up with a north Indian prime minister!

It is a nice theory, but the captain of the 'secular' forces is now allied to the very forces he was supposed to combat. Gujral wants to contest from the Jalandar Lok Sabha constituency. The problem is he can't win except by accepting help from the 'communal' Akali Dal (a sworn BJP ally).

By the way, I'm not too sure if Gujral really qualifies as the 'Punjab ka puttar' he is posing as today. After all, didn't he enter the Rajya Sabha by swearing he was 'normally resident' in Patna? Correct me if I am wrong, but the last time I checked the map that city was in Bihar, not Punjab.

How about Chandra Shekhar? In the 1996 general election he won with the BJP's tacit support. To his credit, he spoke up valiantly against political 'untouchability'. But you can carry a good idea a bit too far...

Some forces definitely shouldn't be touched -- such as the corruption, casteism, and maladministration embodied in Laloo Prasad Yadav. I am sorry to see Chandra Shekhar proposing to fight the 1998 polls in the Bihar chieftain's company. A man who valiantly spoke out against Indira Gandhi's dynastic ambitions is now allied with one who thought nothing of putting his inexperienced wife on Bihar's gaddi.

How about Narasimha Rao, the man who succeeded Chandra Shekhar? In 1994, during the Andhra Pradesh assembly campaign, Rao boasted of being a son of the soil. Where is the 'Telugu bidda' today?

Rao, very prudently in my opinion, has decided he doesn't really have a chance in any of Andhra Pradesh's 42 Lok Sabha constituencies. So he has crossed the border and sought sanctuary in Orissa's Behrampore.

The sad reality is that of all the men who have been prime minister the only one confident enough to face his electors is Atal Bihari Vajpayee. (Vishwanath Pratap Singh says he has renounced electoral politics till 1999, while Deve Gowda sees no reason to leave his nook in the Rajya Sabha.)

But why should I single out only those who have been prime minister? How many party leaders are willing to take the plunge and see what the voters think of them?

Frankly, I can't even remember the last time Sitaram Kesri stood for the Lok Sabha. How about that supreme backroom operator, CPI-M general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet? (For the record, Kesri lost his deposit on the last occasion, and Surjeet's 'grand alliance' for the Punjab assembly polls in February 1997 lost every seat it contested!)

And, last but not least, what about Sonia Gandhi? Laloo Prasad Yadav has already recommended she shouldn't even bother to contest. As the Rashtriya Janata Dal is the Congress' major ally, I presume this advice must be taken seriously.

But I have a confession to make. I can't help wishing that none of these nervous 'secularists' -- Gujral, Chandra Shekhar, Rao, Deve Gowda, V P Singh, or Sonia Gandhi -- bother to campaign, leave alone contest. Think of all that we taxpayers will save by keeping them and their SPG guards at home!

T V R Shenoy

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