|HOME | NEWS | COLUMNISTS | AMBERISH K DIWANJI|
|March 28, 2001||
Amberish K Diwanji
BJP is damned by perception
It must surely rank as India's tragedy that the exposure by Tehelka.com of some of political leaders seeking money is an issue that has been politicised not just by the political class (what else can they do) but even by members of the media and other observers.
Claims about the validity of the camera or tapes, about links to China (where did that come from?), about the political leanings of the Tehelka team have been bashed about by all and sundry.
The Congress party has been synonymous with corruption for decades now, right from the time when Nagarvala claimed that Indira Gandhi phoned him and asked for Rs 60 lakhs, down to P V Narasimha who became India's first former PM to be indicted by court offering bribes to MPs.
No one ever votes for the Congress because he or she believes it is honest. They do so for other reasons or because they don't want to vote for the BJP/NDA.
The BJP appeared different; even though everyone but everyone knew that the party was obviously taking funds from its supporters (how else do you fight elections?). The feeling was that the money was taken with principles involved (through cheques with receipts issued, and most important -- nothing promised in return that would impair India's interests). The BJP appeared clean, honest, and this appealed to millions of middle-class Indians who were simply fed up with the Congress and its crippling corruption.
Alas, watching Bangaru Laxman grab the money, even if he promised little in return, destroys that image and does not augur well for a party projecting a cleaner than thou look.
Worse, of course, is the Jaya Jaitly-George Fernandes scam. The BJP was seen as a tough party that would never, never compromise India's security. But frankly, things now are different, thanks to its association with Fernandes.
What bothers the common man is that if any damn jerk can walk in to the defence minister's bungalow, offer money and be told that he will be helped out, how safe is India? To the common man, Fernandes's folly is indefensible.
The BJP and its supporters have forgotten two cardinal principles of politics. First, in politics, perception matters. There is no better example of this than the Bofors case. Till date, there is no conclusive evidence that Rajiv Gandhi ever received any of the commission paid by Bofors.
Yet, rumours in the 1980s that he "might" have received money was sufficient to sway millions of Indians in the 1989 elections (there is a lesson for the BJP here: Rajiv too began his career as Mr Clean; within a couple of years, this image was in tatters).
Similarly, today there is a distinct perception that the BJP is no longer above reproach, that in power it has become just another Congress (and if this is so, then it is a tragedy), interested in power and not principles or convictions, and that it is no longer honest.
Second, that by being in power, it is in the limelight. Any journalist worth his salt will target the BJP rather than an opposition party out in the wilderness. Today, the CBI has filed a case against one Vincent George. Who is he? Just a PA to Sonia Gandhi. Yawn!
V George is not the defence minister, Sonia Gandhi is not the PM. But Fernandes was the defence minister, what he did or said, and equally important what his colleagues/friends/confidantes said or did, is important for India. This is a basic premise of news reporting, and any journalist today would rather spend his energy unearthing the deals of Fernandes rather than Vincent.
That is the price of power. The BJP has taken money in the past, and it will in the future. Frankly, if someone had taped a BJP leader taking money in the 1980s, it would not have been half as upsetting as seeing it in 2001. So let the BJP not cry. If they don't like the limelight, they can get out.
Moreover, journalists supporting the BJP would also do well to remember that as of now, people are not interested in the messenger but in the message. The message is that the BJP too is guilty of corrupt practices, and these ardent supporters would be better off plying their energy on cleaning up the BJP than in making wild allegations against Tehelka.com.
To blame Tehelka.com, to accuse it of partisanship, and worse, to counter the charges by making allegations against the website, is ridiculous. Who cares whether Tarun Tejpal or Aniruddha Bahal are corrupt or not! These two gentlemen are not part of the Government of India. But messrs Fernandes, Mishra are, and Messrs Jaitly and Laxman are closely associated with them.
And last but not the least, it would be of immense help if those managing the media for the BJP/NDA stopped whining about being the victims of a conspiracy and actually do something about this damn "conspiracy". For heaven's sake, they are in the government, if they can't do anything, who the hell can?
And if they can't, India has no need for such sissies in government.
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