Saturday, September 11, 2010

Malai of power tempts BJP

By Swapan Dasgupta

If politics is the art of the possible (and the immediate) few will find fault with the BJP decision to resume its troubled cohabitation with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha. Since the Assembly election had produced a horribly inconclusive verdict, the alternative to post-election alliances of expediency was President's Rule, the euphemism for Congress control of the state government. Even if the Congress and Babulal Marandi's JVM were to attempt a coalition government, it would have had to rope in either the JMM or the BJP. Since a BJP-Congress coalition isn't a feasible idea in today's context, the participation of the JMM was a must for any elected government in Ranchi. Immediately after the election, the JMM insisted that Shibu Soren must be Chief Minister. Now, with 'Guruji' more or less bowing out, his son Hemant Soren has preferred the Deputy Chief Minister's post to a long spell in the wilderness.

Yet, the issue is not as matter of fact as may appear. After Shibu Soren's inexplicable decision to vote with the UPA in the cut motion during the Budget session earlier this year, the BJP took the high moral ground and brought down the five-month-old government in Jharkhand. It tried to leverage Shibu's 'betrayal' to secure the Chief Ministership for itself. But that didn't wash with the JMM and the BJP was left with no alternative but to be an unwilling victim of its 'principled' posturing.

What has changed in the intervening months of President's Rule? First, there were definite indicators that that the Congress was waiting for the conclusion of the Bihar Assembly election to dissolve the Jharkhand Assembly and order fresh elections. Second, if the political buzz is indicative of public opinion, it seemed likely that another election in, say, early-2011 would lead to a decisive victory for the Congress-JVM in case the alliance persisted. Even if the Congress and Marandi fought separately, the wisdom in Ranchi was that the BJP would be main casualty and Marandi the main beneficiary.

The feverish behind-the-scenes activity which led to two of BJP's shadowy power brokers persuading Hemant Soren to settle for the Number 2 slot was less an offshoot of arithmetical pragmatism and more a consequence of fear of an electoral debacle. The numbers game in Jharkhand was always inimical to any lofty governance-centred approach, much as L.K. Advani would have wished. But the present arrangement was governed by extreme cynicism and a desire to make hay in the setting sun.

This may be unfair to Arjun Munda whose ability to negotiate very sticky wickets is legion. Once the BJP made up its mind to participate in a coalition with the JMM, there was no question that Munda was the man for the job. Apart from having the support of 16 of the 18 BJP legislators, Munda is well versed in the art of keeping all MLAs (including members of parties inimical to the BJP) happy and rewarded. No one else had the requisite skills to put off the day of reckoning for as long as possible.

The present arrangement may well endure for much longer than the jinxed tenure of Shibu Soren. But the circumstances in which the coalition was re-forged and the underlying rationale behind putting off another election poses enormous problems for the BJP.

After the previous Assembly, the BJP should have logically asked itself the question: what was responsible for the party's diminishing popularity in a state that it once regarded as its stronghold? Why, it should have asked, were the 2009 Lok Sabha results not replicated in an Assembly election held just a few months later? Unfortunately these questions were never asked as the party gloated in the consolation prize of ministerships under Shibu Soren. Even now these questions are not being asked.

In a sense these awkward questions never seem to be asked. The BJP never conducted a post-mortem of why it fared so pathetically in Uttar Pradesh in 2006. Its post-mortem of the 2009 national defeat was a spurious exercise and aimed at ensuring that real control of the party passed from politicians to pracharaks. There was no real inquiry as to how and why the party 'sold' itself to the Congress in Haryana.

There is little point taunting the BJP for not being a 'party with a difference'. The pillars of the pre-1998 distinctiveness were jettisoned once the party, like the Congress, accepted the realities of ongoing coalitions. But while the Congress-isation of the ideological space was inevitable (unless the party was reconciled to being in opposition permanently), what was not inevitable was the Congress-isation of the space reserved for political integrity.

To a very large extent, the crisis of the BJP today is a crisis of integrity. The BJP, particularly in the states, has become deeply contaminated by 'leaders' who are neither driven by ideology nor managerial efficiency. In Karnataka, the Chief Minister is being undermined by a profit-making cabal; in Uttarakhand, an inept Chief Minister is at the mercy of political venality; and in Punjab, BJP ministers have alienated their social constituencies by embracing the most disagreeable features of Congress culture. The BJP in Jharkhand mirrors this trend—a reason why there are no expectations from it.

There is little point in saying that the Congress is synonymous with corruption. As the Commonwealth Games fiasco has suggested, the BJP is not loath to ask for its share of the malai.

Sunday Pioneer, September 12, 2010

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