Party without a difference- The BJP has adopted the dirty tricks of the Congress of yore
|Worm's Eye View |
In the pursuit of power and pelf, many a politician has dispensed with ideological commitment or just plain idealism - provided they had either to begin with. Even so, the spectacle that unfolded at the conference hall of the Bharatiya Janata Party headquarters at 11 Ashoka Road last week would make the skin of the most hard-boiled cynic crawl.
Sporting well-coiffed locks that would make much younger men proud and displaying an obsequiousness to his new masters that would make medieval serfs squirm, S.M. Krishna joined the BJP on March 22, having quit the Congress party after a 46-year-long association a few weeks earlier.
Announcing his decision to resign from the Congress on January 29 this year, Krishna had lamented: "No party where age and experience is not valued will have a great future."
The Congress's future certainly looks bleak and no one would be surprised if a politically ambitious young man or woman chose to jump ship midstream. Rats, after all, are not the only creatures to leave a sinking ship in the hope of clambering up on to a more stable craft that may take them to better shores.
Still, there was something truly pathetic about Krishna's crossover. Here was an 84-year-old man, well into the twilight of his life, who had got everything any politician could dream of from his parent party, still greedy for more.
In his four-and-a-half-decade long stint with the Congress, the Karnataka veteran had not been a faceless cog of the party machine but a member of the legislative assembly who had served both as Speaker and then chief minister of the state. Moving on to the national stage, he was elected to the Lok Sabha three times, given two terms in the Rajya Sabha, the governorship of Maharashtra and the coveted post of external affairs minister - one among the 'big four' portfolios - in the United Progressive Alliance government.
Krishna made a point to mention that last one even though his stint at the foreign ministry is best remembered for the gaffe he made at the United Nations security council when he began reading out the Portuguese foreign minister's speech mistaking it for his own. At that time, the BJP pilloried him mercilessly, describing his goof-up as "laughable proof" of a "directionless" government.
All that was forgotten last Wednesday when Krishna claimed, "As foreign minister for three years, I know that India has reached a stage where other nations are jealous of the way India has emerged and re-emerged and it is all because of the leadership of Shri Narendra Modiji and Shri Amit Shahji."
Amit Shah, who has so far been feted only for his skills at winning domestic elections, beamed at this rare bow to his international stature and returned the compliment with alacrity. Welcoming Krishna into the BJP fold, Shah said the erstwhile Congress leader's "spotless" political career would strengthen the BJP not just in Karnataka but also in the country as a whole.
Shah seemed to indicate that Krishna's late-life switch would not go in vain. Modi may have no place for old men in his own party, with 75 being the cut-off age for becoming minister or chief minister. But there are always governorships to hand out and a Raj Bhavan would do just fine for Krishna even if it doesn't quite measure up to a Lutyens' bungalow.
If Krishna's switch has the ring of low comedy, the BJP's readiness to welcome every defector that comes its way reflects the Modi-Shah combine's unrelenting drive for complete domination over India's polity any which way, every which way.
For the BJP's hard-core support base, Modi's goal of a 'Congress- mukt Bharat' is a code that signifies the replacement of the Congress's ideals of secularism, pluralism, openness and diversity with a muscular majoritarianism that brooks no dissent.
But the 'Congress- mukt' mantra appealed to a much wider audience because 'Congress culture' had acquired a pejorative and putrid flavour over the years. As the 'natural party of governance' for several decades, the Congress got embedded with all the ugly accoutrements that unchallenged power tends to attract. The idealism that it represented before Independence gradually ebbed as it turned into a patronage network, a magnet for all kinds of power seekers. Corruption, venality, opportunism, cynical manipulation and reckless misuse of institutions came to be associated with the party - not least because political power and the Congress were seen to be synonymous.
The BJP claimed to be different - not just ideologically but also in terms of its core characteristics. With 'character building' being the self-proclaimed goal of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP cadre schooled in RSS shakhas have always made much of their four Cs: chaal (behaviour), charitra (character), chehra (image) and chintan (thinking.) If lust for power and greed for wealth guided the politics of an average Congressman, loyalty and commitment were the hallmarks of the BJP member, they insisted.
In recent weeks, that façade has fallen off with a rapidity that has taken even BJP loyalists by surprise. Despite having a brute majority at the Centre and in many states, and in spite of the vast cadre network of the RSS, the BJP leadership has now acquired such an insatiable desire for total control that it thinks nothing of rewarding defectors from the Congress and other parties in the hope of attracting more opportunist turncoats.
In Uttarakhand, for instance, although the BJP won a three-fourths majority, five of the seven cabinet ministers in the Trivendra Singh Rawat government are Congress rebels who crossed over to the BJP - some as recently as a few months ago. In Uttar Pradesh, too, Rita Bahuguna Joshi was given a cabinet post - her 'Congress culture' wiped out the minute she joined the BJP.
Apart from embracing Congress turncoats, the BJP had no qualms about cynically using Raj Bhavans and engineering across the board defections to grab power. If two men were responsible for the victories in UP and Uttarakhand, two women - Najma Heptulla and Mridula Sinha - delivered the states of Manipur and Goa to the BJP, both showing scant regard for constitutional procedures and norms, not even bothering with the formality of inviting the leader of the single largest party to form the government.
As the most dominant party in India today, the BJP is in a far better position to cajole and co-opt smaller parties, or coerce and crush them. So it could have easily formed governments in Panjim and Imphal - even though the Congress was the single largest in both states - by voting out a minority Congress government on the floor of the assembly. But the party was in such a tearing hurry to prop up governments made up of defectors that it did not bother with such formalities.
BJP apologists cited past Congress precedents to justify the brazen bribe-and-grab tactics, unmindful yet again of the irony that a party wedded to the cause of a 'Congress- mukt' polity thinks nothing of adopting discredited Congress tactics, which the Grand Old Party itself jettisoned quite some time ago.
As the BJP, in its haste to acquire absolute power, adopts all the dirty tricks associated with the Congress party of yore, the Congress should rejoice at the exit of the Krishnas, Joshis, Bahugunas and Biren Singhs from its ranks. Back in 1920, Mahatma Gandhi transformed the Congress from an elite forum to a mass party by offering 'four -anna' membership to anyone committed to a long struggle for a distant goal. Nearly a hundred years later, it may seem impossible to revive that same spirit of idealism. But the exodus of greedy time-servers certainly makes the slim chance of revival just a little brighter.