Saturday, October 27, 2012

Cornered netas great for TRPs

By Swapan Dasgupta

Just as cinema viewers (or least they did so in the old days) clap and cheer the hero as he delivers devastating blows to the villain and his flunkeys, today’s TV audiences really get turned on at the sight of political leaders and their spokespersons squirming as they try and field embarrassing questions.

The past month has been great for TV anchors. They have competed with each other in hurling sharp questions at politicians and then smirking in triumph. The audiences have delighted at the spectacle of silver-tongued netas tie themselves up in knots trying to defend the indefensible and getting needlessly aggressive as credible logic evades them.

By and large it has been the Congress which has at the receiving end of the media’s politician baiting. But last week was open season on the BJP thanks to the innovative business practices of its President Nitin Gadkari. As someone who isn’t inimical to the BJP, it was painful to watch its representatives who, only the other day were thundering against the slippery practices of a Robert Vadra and Virbhadra Singh all flustered over seemingly incontrovertible evidence of dodgy practices of Gadkari’s companies—and yet doggedly insisting that it is best to reserve judgment until an inquiry.

It is entirely possible that Gadkari and his Purti group of companies have a convincing explanation for its investors providing dubious addresses and the source of their funds that were invested into the trust of a ‘social entrepreneur’. As of now the inquisitors haven’t been enlightened and have come to believe the worst. Yet, the obvious pitfalls of a trial-by-media apart, there is an issue that bothers me. When Gadkari took his business decisions on behalf of the Purti group, did he do so in accordance with a mandate given by the party? Were his investments an extension of his political responsibilities, as an MLC in Maharashtra, as a president of the Maharashtra state BJP or as the BJP’s national President?

If the answer is a resounding No, why is it incumbent on the part of the BJP to come to the defence of Purti’s business practices? That is the responsibility of Gadkari, his accountant, his chauffer, baker, astrologer and others who were pillars of the Purti group. Surely the BJP doesn’t believe that it should act as a protective shield for the private concerns of all its leaders. Will the party, for example, now take it upon itself to defend its Rajya Sabha MP Ajay Sancheti, a friend of Gadkari from Nagpur, who has been accused of many wrongdoings?

There was consternation in the country when Robert Vadra was put into an isolation ward and the top guns of the Union Cabinet were wheeled out to speak in his defence. The competitive rush to defend the Gandhi family’s errant son-in-law was attributed to the Congress’ slavish culture of dynasty worship. Was it really necessary for the BJP to emulate this disagreeable culture?  

The entire controversy over Purti’s sources of funding has done incalculable damage to the standing and reputation of its party President. Regardless of the meaningless speculation over who ‘leaked’ the story, the fact is there were some skeletons in Gadkari’s cupboard and thse have come tumbling out. In the public perception what matters is not whether or not there was a ‘conspiracy’ to defame the BJP but that he is now regarded as damaged goods.

Unfortunately for the party, the damage is not confined to Gadkari the individual and his business associates. There has been considerable collateral damage caused by the unthinking display of loyalty. Take the case of L.K. Advani who came out in Gadkari’s defence and tried to make a distinction between his role as a businessman and his public life. This is the same Advani who in 1996 resigned his seat in Parliament after it was suggested that he was a recipient of tainted money. Advani made it clear that he wouldn’t contest elections until he was fully cleared and he stuck to his word. This is the same Advani who undertook a nationwide yatra last year to highlight the distortions created by the black economy. What has occasioned this shift from an insistence on the highest ethical standards? Advani may have an explanation but these may seem less credible than Arvind Kejriwal’s insistence that the Congress and BJP are two sides of the same counterfeit coin.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that those who constitute the BJP’s loyal vote bank are disgusted by the leadership’s unwillingness to confront reality. The ‘informal’ BJP group that met last Friday night and backed Gadkari may have done so on the ground that the party must not be browbeaten into a decision. But that was only part of the story. A more pressing fear was the belief that Gadkari’s exit will facilitate a takeover of the BJP by Narendra Modi.

For once their fears weren’t misplaced. Recent events have reinforced the belief at the grassroots that it is only the Gujarat Chief Minister who can mount a credible challenge to the faltering Congress-led UPA. For the moment a cabal of the collusive may have prevailed but it is only a matter of time before the popular will breaks down the resistance. Till then, India’s principal Opposition force is destined to suffer the ignominy of being mocked as the Bharatiya Janata Purti.

Sunday Pioneer, October 28, 2012 

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