Monday, November 09, 2009

Murky drama of national disrepute (November 8, 2009)

Swapan Dasgupta


There appears to be a frenzied tussle within the political class to ascertain which piece of bad news is more disgusting to an already cynical electorate. To some punters, former Jharkhand Chief Minister Madhu Koda (a man who rose to that position despite being an Independent MLA) enjoys an initial lead. The tales of a staggering sum of money, equal to nearly half the unfortunate State’s annual budget, being stashed away in instruments ranging from residential property in Delhi and Kolkata to mines in Liberia and two star hotels in Thailand, are the stuff of legends. If even remotely true, Koda should have a venerated place alongside the early ‘Nabobs’ of the East India Company. In time, once the irritating legal complications are out of the way — as they inevitably will because the law in India is never unduly harsh — Koda will have all the qualifications to become India’s first National Professor of Political Entrepreneurship.


Koda’s achievements are all the more remarkable because they happened with little fuss and no blowing of trumpets. As the head of a coalition Government that had been put in place to keep the BJP out of power, Koda took full advantage of the political cover provided by an indulgent UPA Government. Ranchi was constantly abuzz with small talk of the very effective ‘single-window’ clearance system Koda had initiated for anything to do with the State Government, but particularly mining-related matters. The bush telegraph invariably communicated tales of a Caligula-like dispensation in Ranchi but the custodians of national morality wilfully chose to look the other way, as they did during the 2G telecom scam.
Today, there is no point in the Congress feigning righteous indignation. Without Congress complicity in the State and its indulgence at the Centre, the rise and rise of Madhu Koda wouldn’t have been possible. The CBI has suddenly discovered that Jharkhand was being sucked dry because Koda has lost his political utility. With the election campaign in progress, the Congress has suddenly donned the mantle of decency by teaming up with the only politician in Jharkhand who has a wholesome reputation.


Babulal Marandi began his innings in the BJP. In the days before the BJP also assumed the role of a commercial enterprise, Marandi was touted as the BJP’s future face for the yet-to-be-born Jharkhand. He did become the new State’s first Chief Minister but was removed because he wasn’t sufficiently ‘accommodating’. In 2005, he left the BJP weeks after the installation of a new national president because he had the foresight to realise that the values nurtured by the old BJP would soon become history. It’s a decision that he has had little reason, so far, to regret.


The shenanigans centred on the lively political culture of Jharkhand are only a chapter in the larger saga of national disrepute. The past week has witnessed the unfolding of another drama, this time in Karnataka, over the spoils of power.


The BJP has long squandered away its reputation for being many notches higher than the Congress in the index of integrity. Yet, even by the permissive standards of political conduct, the attempted coup in Bengaluru is shocking. Hitherto, businessmen used politicians and their proximity to power to secure favours, influence policies and ‘manage the environment’ so to speak. The moneybags always made sure that they were one or two steps removed from the actual exercise of power. The Reddys of Bellary are attempting to redraw the rules of the game by putting political power directly at the disposal of a formidable business lobby. They have discarded all pretence and want to exercise political power directly, even if it involves the removal of a popularly-elected Chief Minister. In Karnataka, the country is witnessing an interesting transition in the relationship between business and politics. Students of early-19th century British history will discover strange parallels in early-21st century India.
Those who believe that the matter will be resolved if Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa shows enough flexibility, reshuffles some Ministerial portfolios and sacks one of his favourite Ministers are mistaken. The draconian anti-defection laws have prevented the Reddys from engineering a vertical split in the BJP legislature party but they have more or less demonstrated that it is Bellary that now calls the shots.


It has been apparent for much of last week that a majority of BJP MLAs have chosen the Reddys as their de-facto leader and are available to do the bidding from Bellary. In a free vote, Yeddyurappa would probably lose to a Reddy-sponsored candidate. This has ominous implications because the Reddys are not committed to the BJP either by way of tradition or belief. For them, the BJP is an instrument of convenience. While flying the BJP flag in Bellary, they were waving the Congress tricolour in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh on behalf of the late YS Rajasekhara Reddy. Indeed, had it not been for YSR's untimely death and Sonia Gandhi’s decision to clip the wings of Jaganmohan Reddy, it is possible the Karnataka crisis wouldn’t have happened.


Any truce in Karnataka is certain to be temporary. Yeddyurappa will strive to regain the upper hand and the Bellary lot will try to press home their advantage relentlessly. In time, the BJP’s first Government south of the Vindhyas will be wheeled into the ICU. At the rate the national party is going, it is also possible that it is not merely a State unit that will need a life support system to keep it alive. Far from heralding a Hindu resurgence, the party has embraced Hindu venality.

Sunday Pioneer, November 8, 2009

1 comment:

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