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December 8, 1997


Pritish Nandy

Both the BJP and Congress stink!

Last week I saw Face Off.

It is a spectacular action thriller, where a cop (John Travolta) chases a terrorist (Nicholas Cage) through the most brilliantly choreographed action sequences I have ever seen. When he finally catches the terrorist, lying hurt and comatose, Travolta strips off Cage's face and takes it on, as a transplant, to track down his associates.

Meanwhile, Cage (to put the story simply) wakes up without his face and, clever clever, instantly figures out that Travolta has stolen it. So he, in turn, steals Travolta's face (which was conveniently left behind in a jar) and becomes the cop. So you have this bizarre battle where the cop (Travolta) who looks like the terrorist (Cage) chases the terrorist (Cage) who looks like the cop (Travolta) and the audience, for once, does not know who to back.

Who is the good guy? The bad guy who looks like the good guy but is actually the bad guy pretending to be the good guy? Or the good guy who looks like the bad guy but is actually the good guy pretending to be the bad guy?

At the end of it, we are left flummoxed. Because the good that wins in the end is no longer all that good as it looked in the beginning. The bad that is demolished in the end was never as bad is it could have been. It was not just a face transplant. It was also a image transplant. What the marketing guys can brand transference. It left the audience confused, bewildered, morally at sea. Simply because no one knew who to back, who to hate.

Imagine a Indo-Pak cricket series where Sachin Tendulkar and his boys wore green, or where Wasim Akram came with his team clad in blazing saffron. Where Dawood Ibrahim betted on Saurav Ganguly, or Balasaheb Thackeray rooted for Waqar Younis. How would you and I react? Who would we yell for, bet on, support?

Well, that is exactly where we are in politics today.

The BJP, in its mad rush to become a mainstream national party, is actually looking more and more like the Congress. On one hand, it is trying to shed its communal image by playing footsie with the likes of Farooq Abdullah. On the other, it is trying to show that it is no longer a party of banias and business tycoons by questioning the liberalisation process. On the third, it is ready to tell the whole world that it will no more look stupid sitting on a high moral perch and criticising others for wheeling and dealing.

For corruption, crime, conspiracy. It has jumped down and joined the fray. If you look at recent events in UP, you will know what I mean. There is not a single trick they have missed. Be it bribery, chicanery, horse trading.

They have mastered what is popularly (and derisively) described as the art of Congress politics. Staying in power at any cost. With any compromise, however ugly.

Meanwhile, look at the Congress. It is becoming more and communal; catering more and more to bania interests; sounding more and more hypocritical. It has mastered the art of lying better than the BJP. At the same time, it waves a tattered old secular flag in the name of Gandhi and Nehru. A flag it no longer swears by. All its leaders -- from Sharad Pawar to G K Moopanar to Jitendra Prasada -- are ready to cut deals with the BJP if it helps them. Scruples and ideology fell by the wayside years back. What they now want is power. Desperately. So, seeing the rise of the BJP in recent years, they have decided to put on the BJP's face. Through plastic surgery.

The BJP, on the other hand, is equally eager to put on the Congress face. To emerge as a mainstream, national party seen as capable of offering one party rule at the Centre.

So you have this huge face off. With the two main contenders for the throne of Delhi, each waving the banner of stability and one party rule. The Congress looking, behaving, acting like the BJP. The BJP looking, behaving, acting like the Congress.

No wonder the electorate is so confused.

That is why, I suspect, when India goes to vote this time it will do an exact repeat of what it did one and a half years back. It will vote for neither of them in numbers adequate for them to come to power on their own. Instead, it will divide its vote even more among the smaller, regional parties. The ones they know, whose point of view they are familiar with. Whom they would recognise in a crowd of two.

In other words, you must be ready for yet another fractured Parliament where smaller parties, regional parties, parties with an ideology of their own will find more and more voice. More and more say.

This does not mean the BJP or the Congress will not come to power. They still may. Through horse-trading and chicanery, false promises and ugly compromises. But that will happen only after the voters show -- by exercising their franchise -- that neither of them represent the true aspirations of modern India.

For modern India may want political stability. But no, not through one party rule. We have seen how wicked, ugly, corrupt and rotten that is. What we want is pluralism, true democracy, multiple parties in uneasy alliance. Modern India realises that one party rule is a silly, washed up idea that only half-baked democracies yearn for. What we need, what we will get in the future will be only coalitions, more coalitions. With or without the Congress looking like the BJP. With or without the BJP looking like the Congress.

But ideally without both.

Because both stink. They stink of each other.

Pritish Nandy

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