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June - July 2009
The winning hand
Elections in a democracy are like a game of cards. A combination of fate, fortune and adroitness brings out the winner. Was it the projection of Manmohan Singh, recovering from his heart operation, as the Prime Ministerial candidate of the UPA two weeks before the General Elections or the tireless electioneering from Sonia Gandhi and her charming son Rahul or the destiny of the Dynasty that brought victory with an unexpected majority for the Congress and its allies?
Looking at it from a different perspective, was it destined that the octogenarian BJP Prime Ministerial candidate, LK Advani would remain a loser despite his dedicated work for the nation and dexterity in the art of oration? His speeches at the hustings were a mere shadow of the past. Narendra Modi, a potential Prime Ministerial candidate of his party outshone him. The hot-headed speeches of Varun Gandhi gave wrong messages to the people of India about the suitability of the Leader for the job of running the country.
How intense was LK Advani’s desire to be the Prime Minister of the country? Working under the shadow of Atal Behari Vajpayee, the astute politician and ideologue, LK Advani could not be his own man merely because he was too loyal to his leader to show any ambition for the top job in spite of the fact that in 2003-2004, Vajpayee was too frail to fight another election. If, before the election, Vajpayee had projected Advani as the next Prime Ministerial candidate rather than himself, the results of 2004 elections could have been different. In 2004 people rejected Vajpayee because of his illness and infirmity. For similar reasons people have rejected Advani in 2009. Advani has nothing new to give to the young Indian voters.
Some may say that the projection of Narendra Modi as the potential Prime Ministerial candidate by some BJP spokesmen during the elections was a mistake that caused the downfall of the party. Surely It created confusion among the rank and file of the Bharatiya Janata Party. His theatrical speeches, however, seem to have awakened the voters at large. The media loved it and projected it on various channels. Advani, on the other hand, came across dull and uninspiring. The projection of NDA as a cohesive alternative to the Congress was presented only during the last phases of the elections. It was effective because of Narendra Modi’s bold and ebullient speeches. A real drama; but unfortunately for them it was too late to have much influence on the minds of the voters.
Similarly, the melodramatic speeches of Varun Gandhi gave shivers to the BJP leaders as well as Mayawati, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. The speeches were not finely tuned to command attention of the media. Even the claim that the speeches were wrongly reported or the CDs were ‘doctored’ decimated their effectiveness for ‘vote-catching’. The amateurish way in which Mayawati reacted by putting him in jail under National Security Act helped Varun Gandhi and his mother Maneka Gandhi in winning their seats in parliament. They both proved an asset to the BJP. The BJP as a party failed to take full advantage of the contribution of Narendra Modi and Varun Gandhi.
What else could you expect from a party that has forgotten its goal? A party without a clear ideology is merely a conglomeration of discontented people with naked ambition of taking power by any means; and using that power to enrich themselves materially or politically. Claiming to be a national party for One Nation, the BJP, nevertheless, limits itself to relatively rich middle class businessmen of one particular religion and has failed to reach various other areas of India.
Taken in the right context you could not really fault Varun Gandhi when he said, “If somebody attacks me I will cut his hand.” Taking rhetoric aside, it just means that if somebody slaps me I will slap him back. I will not give my other cheek to be slapped again. It may sound unchristian; but it is not against Hindu or Sikh religion. Non-violence is an excellent way of life; but to keep tolerating terrorists’ onslaught every third day or to be coerced into converting one’s religion is pure cowardice.
I do not know how many of our readers would remember the crucial moment in the debate on Nuclear Treaty with the United States when the Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh rose to conclude the debate with the verses from the Gurbani of Dasham Guru Govind Singh. “Dehai Shiva bur mohey ehai shubh karman tai kabhuna taroon
Na daro ari so jur jahi laro nischai kar apni jeet karoon (O’Shiva give me this blessing that I may never shun from good deeds: And bless me that I fearlessly fight the enemy in the righteous war that for sureI will return victorious)
Chandi Charitra 1 Padshahi 10
This was the defining moment of the debate. In that crucial debate his enemies were the ‘Left parties” and the BJP. And he came out victorious.
To me, that was the premonition of the results of the general elections of this week. By joining the ‘left parties’ to oppose something which originated under BJP government of which LK Advani was an important office holder, the BJP lost its moral high ground of adhering to ‘primary national interest’ and became a party that gives political opportunism higher priority than the interest of the nation. LK Advani, tamely colluding with anti-national parties who look up to China and Russia for guidance, reduced himself from a national statesman to a politician with shortsighted ambition of grabbing power at every opportunity. If at that crucial moment he had instructed his party to abstain from voting (in the national interest) his ratings as a statesman and a national leader would have risen high enough to give him an honourable position in the history of the nation and may have enabled him to win laurels at the general elections this week.
Unfortunately, it did not happen. The unsavoury drama in the parliament brought by some of the enthusiastic members of his parliamentary party could have been avoided. The Congress party did not have to bargain with uncouth and politically obscene leaders of Samajwadi Party to get a majority in parliament. It did them no harm. The Congress party is adept in using other parties to do their dirty work. They did so under Narasimha Rao’s government. But for the BJP to join the ‘leftist’ parties to bring down Manmohan Singh government was sheer political opportunism and a clumsy attempt to bring down a government. That also at a time when that government was almost near the end of its tenure. It was almost unforgivable. And the voters did not forgive!
It is vital for a stable democracy in India that the BJP should become a strong, national party with aims and objectives that are partially similar and partially opposite to that of the present Congress party. In any democracy, the party that holds the centre ground is bound to win at the general elections. But the centre, as Margaret Thatcher once said, periodically shifts. The Congress of today is not the one, which fought for India’s independence against the colonial rule. It cannot even claim the inheritance of Jawahar Lal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi. That Congress was long dead in May 1964 on the death of India’s first Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru or, as some would say, in January1948 with the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by a Hindu fanatic Nathu Ram Godse.
The present Congress party is the legacy of Indira Gandhi (no relation of Mahatma Gandhi) wife of Feroze Gandhi, a Parsi left-wing intellectual and journalist. Her elder son Rajiv married Sonia, an Italian by birth, whom he met in Oxford with the consent of his mother. The younger son, Sanjay, married Maneka, the daughter of a Sikh army officer. Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister on the assassination of his mother in 1984 by her Sikh bodyguards. A woman cadre of LTTE assassinated Rajiv in a suicide attack.
Sonia Gandhi, the widow of Rajiv became Congress president, and in 2004, successfully took power from the BJP-led government of NDA. Instead of becoming Prime Minister herself, which she knew would be controversial and create a lot of resentment within her party because of her Italian origin, she offered the job to Mr. Manmohan Singh, a successful Finance Minister under previous Congress government of Narasimha Rao. In the last five years, Manmohan Singh steered the nation through successful economic growth culminating in a radical change of foreign policy of strategic partnership with the United States and a Nuclear Treaty despite strong opposition from its allies of the leftist parties.
The latest electoral success of the Congress party, in short, is mainly due to strong leadership at the Centre combined with glamour associated with the Gandhi dynasty. Sonia Gandhi, as Congress president, remains the string puller in all important matters of the State with Rahul Gandhi being projected as the leader representing youth of India and a future prime minister.
Whether the hybrid dynasty, now controlling Congress political machine, will be able to steer the country to the next stage of economic development is yet to be seen. The national unity of the country in the wake of political turmoil in neighbouring countries is a great political challenge. Relations with Sri Lanka and Nepal are far from cordial. Pakistan is already fighting a ferocious battle with the Taliban terrorists. Within India, regionalism and caste-based political parties is an ever-growing phenomenon. Rapid economic growth and political stability are essential for India’s development.
Is the present leadership of the Congress strong enough to take up the challenge and give a clean, transparent and efficient administration to the country? The answer will be affirmative if the main opposition party i.e. the BJP can also take the challenge and provide an effective opposition, which is united and clear in its aims and ideology. It should always be organisationally in readiness to form government if the present government fails to deliver.
Varun Gandhi, Narendra Modi and many other BJP leaders should conclude their speeches with the verses from Bhagvad Gita and Gurbani of Guru Govind Singh. It will not be called communal or incitement to violence. After all, Dr Manmohan Singh did take the blessings of Lord Shiva in the parliament. And he is certainly not communal.
The Bhagvad Gita says:
Athe chaitavmimum dharmaya sangramam na krisyesi Tatteye swadharmum keertiche hitva paapamvapayasi (Now, if thou will not wage a righteous war and run away from your righteous duty-that will indeed be sinful) Bhagvad Gita Chapter II verse 33
“Dehai Shiva bur mohey ehai shubh karman tai kabhuna taroon. Na daro ari so jur jahi laro nischai kar apni jeet karoon”
(O’Shiva give me this blessing that I may never shun from good deeds: And bless me that I fearlessly fight the enemy in the righteous war that for sure I will return victorious) Chandi Charitra 1 Padshahi 10
Indians have nothing to fear but fear itself. A prayer to Shiva will strengthen their will to fight and win, whether it is poverty, ignorance or enemy within or without.
Will Indian democracy be safe under the new regime of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi? The BJP leadership should ask this question to their own ideologues. A strong opposition is sine qua non for a stable democracy. Secularism in India, like patriotism, has become a refuge for scoundrels. The BJP, in the aftermath of electoral debacle, should ensure that the party does not slide into religious intolerance and bigotry. It also does not have to make unholy alliances with other casteist and leftist parties for the sake of winning power. It must broaden its appeal to the poor rural masses and urban slum-dwellers. Hopefully, the recent general elections have shown the healthy trend that people do not want third or fourth fronts. The two major parties should broaden their base to include like-minded people from other regions, caste and religion. Extension of democratic norms within the organisation of each party will ensure that they are not controlled by a small clique or a dynasty.
The three powerful figures who are governing the country now will be reduced to two in a few years. The Opposition party, to provide strong opposition and a choice of alternative government, has to start now to find a new group of hands who can lead and provide an ideological base that will inspire the people of India to achieve material prosperity and safety without sacrificing their ancient heritage.