‘There is no point getting into who threw the first rock. Because we are now caught in a vicious cycle. What used to happen in states two decades ago has come to the Centre.
'The BJP has only taken it to another level. First, by this triple weaponisation of the agencies, a few TV channels and social media. And second, by leaving the side-door open. To anybody willing to defect to them,’ says Shekhar Gupta.
It’s been an unlikely couple of weeks when, even in the season of Kashmir, Narendra Modi and Imran Khan have yielded space to three mere initialisms: CBI, ED, I-T.
That is because we have seen a flurry of the high and mighty raided, charge sheeted, questioned (the Indian media somehow prefers the more sadistic “grilled”) and marched in and out of court.
Nothing that happens even in Kashmir right now, or another rant from Imran, or a friendly slap on Donald Trump’s wrist by Narendra Modi, can beat the images of middle-aged CBI officers hitching up their trousers and climbing the walls of P Chidambaram’s Jor Bagh home for immediate news and tamasha value.
This brings back to me a late evening conversation and a treatise on what drives “us politicians” by a formidable practitioner of the craft. Let me also clarify that it was an alcohol-free, one-on-one dinner and therefore not at any elevated levels of “spirituality”.
“Why do we invest our lives in politics,” my host asked. “Why do we endure the dust, heat, bumpy helicopters, ‘dhakka-mukki’ (push-and-shove), court cases, arrests, to get this thing called power? Is mein aisa kya current hai (what is this irresistible pull)?” he said.
Not the money, he said. After all, even after you made all your money, you couldn’t really enjoy it.
“In our politics, you can’t be seen to be rich,” he said, explaining how even your cars, homes and kurtas have to look modest. Even your families can’t be seen flaunting jewellery, or splurging.
“Then why do you do so, what is this ‘current’ of political power and wealth if you can’t even enjoy it,” I asked.
“Yehi aap nahin samjhogey (this is what you don’t understand), Shekhar Guptaji,” he said. Then he went on to explain what happens when you get power. You do to the guy you defeated exactly what he did to you. Not even so much to him, but to his people.
“We know who his people are, in every district, every village,” he said. “We send our police, vigilance bureau, whatever after them. For those we really want to target, we may even keep a kilo of illegal opium or a murder charge handy.” Then what happens, he asked.
I said, “Obviously, when your victim suffers you get your revenge.”
“See, you don’t understand us politicians (rajneta log),” he said. When we hurt these people, they go running to their bosses and say, huzoor, bachao mujhe (sir, please save me). Then their leader says, he can’t because he hasn’t got the power any more. The torture he suffers (jab woh tadapta hai), that is our fix, he said. “Tab dil mein jo thandak padti hai, uske liye 5 saal dhakke khaate hain (the incredible pleasure we get from our rivals’ helplessness to help his own is why we work so hard at our politics).”
Please do not jump to the conclusion that it’s another anonymous story, because I promise to tell you who he was. Please stay with me until the end. Because, there is a twist in the tale.
This conversation took place almost two decades back. Much has happened since to build a large enough body of evidence to teach us how right he was.
At this particular point, we have P Chidambaram in custody, he and his son Karti accused in the INX Media case, Bhupinder Singh Hooda and former treasurer of Congress Motilal Vora charge sheeted at the age of 90 in the Associated Journals Ltd land allocation case, Kamal Nath under I-T probe, his nephew accused of receiving a bribe for AgustaWestland helicopter purchase and arrested for bank loan fraud, Sonia, Rahul Gandhi and key aides under trial in the National Herald case, Karnataka Congress stalwart D K Shivakumar under the ED’s scanner, and so on.
In 2015, not long after the BJP came to power, a corruption case was filed against the Congress party’s Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh and his home was raided on the day of his second daughter’s wedding. He had to rush home from the wedding venue and even cancel the celebratory lunch.
Praful Patel is living through frequent trysts with the ED on a bunch of cases; several of Mamata Banerjee’s party colleagues, loyal police officers all have ‘dates’ with the CBI they couldn’t exactly be enjoying.
Then, you can go back. Within two weeks of coming to power in the summer of 2001, Jayalalithaa charged her predecessor M Karunanidhi in a Rs 12 crore “flyover” scam, had his home raided at 1.45 am, and the dramatic visuals of the old man being hauled down the steps would still shake you up.
At various points of time, Lalu, Mulayam and Mayawati were charged by the CBI, ED or I-T, irrespective of who was in power, the NDA or UPA. It is just that the cases waxed or waned, depending on whether they were playing ball with the Centre or not. Check the archives of the weeks leading up to the no-confidence motion against the UPA on the nuclear deal.
The latest to join the group of these usual suspects is Raj Thackeray, now accused by the ED of allegedly having made fake deals and making Rs 20 crore out of the wreck called IL&FS.
Do the forensics on each one of these cases, and you will find a pattern. In each, the party now in trouble had done something similar, when it was in power, to the current incumbents.
Amit Shah and Narendra Modi faced legal and criminal challenges for a decade, the former spending three months in custody on a “fake encounter” and murder charge (cleared later). Do note that Mr Shah too was pulled out when caught up in a child’s wedding.
One of the two judges who ordered a CBI probe against Mr Shah did so two days before his retirement. He was facing a CBI probe in what was called as the provident fund scam in Ghaziabad. The CBI cleared him soon enough, and then Akhilesh Yadav’s “secular” government made him chairman of UP’s State Human Rights Commission. A wedding interrupted, a judge in a hurry two days before retirement, and a reward afterwards. Sounds familiar now?
There is no point getting into who threw the first rock. Because we are now caught in a vicious cycle. What used to happen in states two decades ago has come to the Centre. The BJP has only taken it to another level. First, by this triple weaponisation of the agencies, a few TV channels and social media. And second, by leaving the side-door open. To anybody willing to defect to them.
This is precisely what my host that evening had said. This was the pattern in our rougher, state politics. Badals versus Amarinder, Mulayam versus Mayawati, Jayalalithaa versus Karunanidhi, Devi Lal versus Bansi Lal versus Bhajan Lal. Now this has come to New Delhi.
I am not about to break the promise I made to you earlier, to tell you the name of the political stalwart who gave me that master class in modern realpolitik of vengeance and sadistic joy.
It was Om Prakash Chautala, then chief minister of Haryana and the conversation took place at Haryana Bhavan. And where is he now? In Tihar Jail.
He and one of his sons are serving a 10-year sentence for corruption. Because their politics of vengeance caught up with them, as have the voters.
In these Lok Sabha elections, their party, which won a majority in Haryana once, secured just over 1.8 per cent votes.
I look forward to a fresh chat with him once he comes out to ask what he thinks of where politics is headed.
With special arrangement from ThePrint