Rasheeda Bhagat

WITH the Ambani brothers burying the hatchet after their mother announced a patch-up formula, stock market indices zoomed, giving the India Story an exciting turn and paving the way for enhanced foreign institutional investment. Both the benchmark indices the BSE Sensex and the Nifty scaled all-time highs, bringing cheer to millions of investors.

But if you thought this exuberance would be reflected in thepolitical scene, you would be quite off the mark.

On the contrary, political parties have gone beyond bickering and finding fault with the Opposition. They are now finding fault with their own leaders! The climate is such that our politicians are simply not in the mood to hear praise being heaped on anybody. And it does not matter if the leaders being praised have departed for another world and are a threat to no one be it Indira Gandhi, who was praised by the RSS chief, Mr K. S. Sudarshan, or M. A. Jinnah, who was termed "secular" by the BJP President, Mr L. K. Advani.

The pride of place when it comes to political shenanigans should go to the Grand Old Party, the Congress, known for inner bickering and its leaders for going at colleagues in "off-the-record" chats with journalists.

The UPA Government may have completed one year in power, but most of the senior Congress leaders are yet to overcome their shock and dismay at a "political novice" like Dr Manmohan Singh being handed the `crown' by the Congress(I) president, Ms Sonia Gandhi. And, so, some senior ministers continue to sulk and make it a point to consult "Madam" rather than the Prime Minister on important decisions in their ministries.

But while the people are used to the antics of Congressmen having watched them score self-goals over many decades the latest tamasha on the political horizon pertains to the BJP. Many second- generation leaders of this "party with a difference" have decided to shed all political niceties, even the discipline that once governed them and the ranks, and done their best to discredit the party chief, Mr Advani the man they once revered.

It was left to the fiery sannyasin Uma Bharti to lead the way when, a few months ago, she openly defied Advaniji at a party meet being covered by the media. As she stormed out of the meet, protesting against the party chief's attempt to discipline her for making statements against her colleagues in the BJP, other senior leaders watched in disbelief.

Hardly a few months later, though, most of those leaders had no qualms in disowning Mr Advani, or refusing to say a word in his support in public, following his controversial remarks on Jinnah during his recent Pakistan visit. Though matters were set right and Mr Advani was persuaded to withdraw his resignation, the revised resolution put together as a face-saving measure praised his Pakistan trip even while making it clear that the party did not share his views on Jinnah, whom it held responsible for dividing the country along communal lines.

But Mr Advani's problems have just begun. Since his return from Pakistan not a day has gone by without all kinds of abuse being hurled upon him from the various outfits of the Sangh Parivar. Hardly had the VHP general-secretary, Mr Praveen Togadia, expended his ammunition on BJP's "tallest leader", than the RSS chief, Mr K. S. Sudarshan, expressed his contempt for the political wing of the Parivar, as well as politics itself, when he likened politics to prostitution. Though he did not mention any names, a week later, sadhus and sants who had assembled in Mr Advani's Gandhinagar constituency to demand his resignation, took the RSS chief's analogy further and heaped unprintable abuses on him.

Anyway, Mr Sudarshan's own remarks, terming Indira Gandhi the best prime minister the country has ever had, have been downplayed even partially disowned by the RSS itself. Addressing swayamsevaks in Ghaziabad, its spokesman, Mr Ram Madhav, categorically said that Mr Sudarshan's praise of Indira Gandhi should not be interpreted as "a big certificate" for her. And in any case, the RSS was not enamoured of "dictators".

So pained was the Samata Party leader and former Defence Minister, Mr George Fernandes, by Mr Sudarshan's praise of Indira Gandhi that he dashed off a letter to him expressing his "shock" at the RSS chief's wholesome praise and saying his appreciation amounted to an "endorsement of dictatorship". To this Mr Madhav's response was that Mr Sudarshan "had not complimented Indira Gandhi."

This is what the RSS chief had said, even while refusing to term Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee the best prime minister the country had: "Indira Gandhi was a lady of firm determination. unlike today's Central leadership, which lacks the same. With courage and determination she managed to get Bangladesh separated from Pakistan in the 1971 war." Well, if this is not a compliment, one wonders what is!

Returning to the BJP, it appears that the party's woes are nowhere near ending. It has now discovered that its national secretary, Mr Sudheendra Kulkarni, who accompanied Mr Advani to Pakistan, and is known to be close to both Mr Vajpayee and Mr Advani, (he plays a major role in drafting their important speeches) has gone and done the unthinkable. He wants the BJP leadership to drop the Hindutva agenda, carve out an identity for itself as an entity not tied to the RSS' apron strings, and woo Muslims! He had presented a paper articulating such thoughts at a closed-door `thinker's meet" in Bhopal in March.

Obviously, the BJP is in no mood to answer important points raised by Mr Kulkarni, including that the party should make up its mind if it is for or against "genuine secularism". The Indian Express quoted a section of his paper: "We may not like it, but here is the inescapable truth of Indian democracy at best, the BJP will remain one of the most important poles in Indian politics and, at worst, it will become a slightly larger version of the Hindu Mahasabha. But with narrow Hindu-only approach, never will it occupy the dominant position in Indian politics that the Congress once enjoyed. In fact, this narrow approach is the surest way of allowing the Nehru-Indira-Rajiv-Sonia-Rahul dynasty to remain alive in Indian politics."

But, then, this kind of chintan (introspection) is too much for a BJP that is still smarting from the 2004 Lok Sabha election defeat. Many BJP leaders have poured scorn on Mr Kulkarni's thoughts, saying they were a total departure from the BJP's ideology and dissociated the party from its national secretary by saying that the paper was not presented or discussed at any party forum and that these were the speaker's "personal views". But, internally, a demand for his ouster from the party post has begun. As it is, he was being blamed by many BJP leaders for having "misled" Mr Advani on the `Jinnah-is-secular' track. And now this.

What better indication that we are headed for interesting times in the political theatre than the CPI(M) netas joining the bandwagon. The former West Bengal Chief Minister, Mr Jyoti Basu, has blamed his successor, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, for "police excesses" on party workers during the recent Kolkata municipality elections.

Welcome to the great Indian political circus.

(Response may be sent to rasheeda@thehindu.co.in)

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated June 23, 2005)
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