Thursday, March 19, 2009

This farce about the Third Front is really too much to swallow

The absurd drama that unfolded in the past week, beginning with the Biju Janata Dal turning secular, the rally at Tumkur in Karnataka where the Left parties, the Janata Dal (S), the TDP, the TRS, the AIADMK and the BSP announced the birth of the Third Front and the gathering on Sunday night for a dinner at Mayawati’s residence in Delhi to take the project one step forward were instances that only established that our this bunch of political leaders can stoop lower than in the past without any problem.

And one was reminded of a wonderful sentence from one of Karl Marx’s brilliant texts, Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. The opening sentence of that text reads as follows: ``Hegel remarks somewhere, that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. Caussidiere for Danton, Louis Blanc for Robespierre, the Montagne of 1848 to 1851 for the Montagne of 1793 to 1795, the nephew for the uncle. And the same caricature occurs in the circumstances of the second edition of the Eighteenth Brumaire’’.

Recall the events in May 1996. The elections had thrown a hung Lok Sabha and the Congress had conceded defeat. The BJP staked its claim to form the Government even though the party along with its pre-poll allies did not have the majority. Its leaders knew they were taking a gamble and they did feel that support would come from such parties as the Telegu Desam, the Tamil Maanila Congress, the DMK, the AGP and the Janata Dal. These parties, meanwhile, were trying to gather around together and making it known that they did not want to support the BJP; and since the Congress was not inclined to ask for their support, they were left with no other option than to claim the job of running the Union Government to themselves.

The underlying story was that the choice before these parties was limited to either supporting the BJP or forming themselves into a coalition and seeking help from the Congress. The third possibility of a Congress running the Government with these parties did not exist because the then Congress president, P.V.Narasimha Rao did not think that way. And they ended up spending more than a week without being able to ``elect’’ a leader from among them. At one stage of that absurd drama, Jyoti Basu’s name was brought up for the Prime Minister’s job. It remained in circulation for a night and the following day until the CPI(M)’s central committee told Basu and the party general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet that such fantasy was not in tune with the party’s line and the programme.

President Shankar Dayal Sharma lost patience when he found the leaders of that noble Third Front unable to elect their leaders even after days since they set out on that job and invited Atal Behari Vajpayee to take the job of the Prime Minister. Vajpayee did not hesitate even for a moment and had himself sworn in along with 12 others the following day. And it was only then that the Third Front finally managed to ``elect’’ its leader. H.D.Deve Gowda, of all people, was named as the next Prime Minister. Gowda agreed to do the job and went about it with all seriousness.
The front was born out of a common craving for secularism. But Gowda did not bother about it much. He flew out of Delhi, late in the night one day, to Mumbai and had a meeting with Bal Thackeray. Gowda’s aide, C.M.Ibrahim, organised the programme and the game was to have the Sena on his side! Well. Gowda did not last long as Prime Minister to have the Sena into the United Front as the platform was called at that time.

Fast Forward to 1998. The United Front Government fell after the Congress withdrew support to I.K.Gujral because Gujral refused to dismiss the DMK ministers from his cabinet. The Congress case was that the DMK was suspected of involvement in Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. The Government fell. Elections were held again. The BJP, this time won more seats than it had and it had some new allies. The Biju Janata Dal and the AIADMK along with the PMK and the MDMK were now part of the NDA. And a small deficit in the number of seats was made up by the Telegu Desam Party and the BJP formed the government. In 1999, the alliance expanded with R.K.Hegde joining the NDA. The AIADMK moved out and the DMK stepped in.

In the meanwhile, the BSP teamed up with the BJP in Uttar Pradesh since 1996 and such arrangements were repeated twice thereafter. Deve Gowda blessed his son H.D.Kumarasamy to cobble up a front, first with the Congress and then with the BJP to run the Government and make tones of money in Karnataka. The Left parties, certainly did not do any such thing. But between 1996 and 2009, they have been busy with the idea of a non-Congress-non-BJP front as well as a Congress-inclusive-anti-BJP front.

The point behind recalling all this is to simply remind ourselves that the track record of the parties. And given the fact that these parties together do not have the strength to garner as many as 272 seats in the next Lok Sabha, all the talk of their Government is simply baseless.

Well. It is not the case here to merely ridicule the antics of the Left leaders and the others in this drama that is being enacted day after day in the context of the snsuing elections.

As Marx goes on to say in the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, ``Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language…”

In other words, the Left had the experience of having worked on the grand idea of a third front and how it collapsed even before it got on with the work of governance. The most important lesson that had to be learnt from the experience of the United Front (1996-1998) was that it set the grounds for the BJP to emerge with more strength in the Lok Sabha in 1998 and for the Government. The United Front, in that sense, was a terrible disaster and ended in a tragedy; the BJP gained out of that. And subsequently, in May 2004, the only option, so to say, was to prop up a Congress-led coalition in the name of secularism.

It is sad that the Left, despite its leaders claiming to have read Marx and Engels, has not been able to internalize this aspect and is engaged in pursuing the same idea of a third front with almost all the old faces in it. In other words, they are simply enacting the farce.

Well. It will be appropriate to return to Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte once again before concluding this. ``The awakening of the dead served the purpose of glorifying the new struggles, not of parodying the old; of magnifying the given task in the imagination, not recoiling from its solution in reality; of finding once more the spirit of revolution, not making its ghost walk again’’.

The third front project, as it is unfurling with Prakash Karat and A.B.Bardhan playing the role of its directors, and with such actors like Deve Gowda, Jayalalitha and Mayawati, is nothing but a parody of the Third Front as it unfolded in 1996 and folded up in 1998. None seem to have bothered to learn from history.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I wrote this before the BJD-BJP alliance broke ... But then, nothig much has changed

Maya Kodnani is a minister in Gujarat. We are told, by a Special Investigation Team of the Gujarat police, that Kodnani went around firing a pistol and commanding a mob that massacred Muslims in the Naroda Patti area in Ahmedabad in March 2002.

The number of dead in the anti-Muslim pogrom has now been revised from 952 to 1180. It is not that 228 people died just now. They were declared missing in 2002; and pronounced dead after seven years because that is what the law demands. In other words, their dead bodies were not found anywhere.

Dr. Binayak Sen, a medical practitioner by profession who spent most parts of his life treating the poor adivasis and the mine workers in Bhilai and in Raipur has been in jail since May 2007. Dr. Sen is charged of having been an associate of the Maoists.

Irom Sharmila Chanu has been fasting since November 2, 2000, demanding that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) be scrapped. Medha Patkar has been leading the adivasis in the Narmada valley demanding their right to live in their own land for more than two decades now.

In a single decade from 1997 – 2006, over 33,000 farmers have committed suicide in Maharashtra. This is the official data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). A few thousand more farmers had killed themselves since 2006.

13 adivasis were killed in police firing at Kalinganagar in Orissa on January 2, 2006. Atleast 15 people were killed by the police in Nandigram in West Bengal in March 2008.

There are fewer jobs than there were in the software sector now. The real estate sector that seemed to be booming until a few months ago is now in a crisis; and hence there are fewer jobs available than in the past. Newspapers that used to bring out supplements with as many as eight pages listing out job opportunities are no longer doing that now. And the Self Financed Engineering colleges that were doing roaring business, thanks to the placement melas by the BPO industry that offered jobs to anyone who happened to be there cannot hope to get as many students they did in the last year.

Well. A general election in such a context could, in the normal course, make a lot of sense. For, that would be an occasion for the people, in a Democracy, to deliver their verdict against those who failed. But then, the reality now is such that there is hardly any choice before the people. Between April 16 and May 13, 2009, the people across the country would have exercised their right by chosing between the devil and the deep sea. Much worse is that in the few days after May 16, 2009, when the results will be out, they will also end up watching, helplessly, a theatre of the absurd unfolding, with parties that pretended to be adversaries cobbling up alliances to form the next government.

Let us take, for instance, the choice before the people of West Bengal: The ruling Left Front has been paying the price for the pro-industry policy. In the by-elections to the panchayats and the assembly constituencies in the past few months, the Left has lost out to Mamta Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress. This clearly is the fallout of the simple fact that Mamta has been leading the protests against the indiscriminate alienation of farm land to the industrial and other commercial houses in Singur and in Nandigram. But then, the dynamics of the Lok Sabha elections are different from that of the by-elections hitherto.

An alliance between Mamta and the Congress is more or less certain at this stage. A pre-poll alliance between the Trinamool Congress and the Congress in West Bengal could mean that the anger against the Left Front, most pronounced now than at any time in the past three decades, could find expression in the form of much lesser seats to the Left Front than the impressive score of 35 out of the 42 seats that the Left won from West Bengal in May 2004. But then, it may not mean anything in a political sense for two distinct reasons. One is that the Trinamool, the Congress and the Left parties do not disagree on the issue of alienation of land from the farmers and handing it over to industrial or other commercial purposes. And secondly, it is most likely that the Left and the Congress will get on to the same bandwagon, post election, and it does not really matter as to whether the MP from a certain constituency from West Bengal belongs to the Congress or the Left parties!

The story from Orissa is not too different. The Biju Janata Dal-Bharathiya Janata Party coalition that has been ruling the State for more than a decade now has been letting murderous attacks on the Christian missionaries with impunity. This, however, had begun earlier than the advent of Naveen Patnaik as Chief Minister. Recall the grissly massacre of Graham Steines and his two sons in Manoharpur and the fact that the State was then ruled by the Congress party! Or the fact that both the BJD-BJP combine and the Congress in Orissa agree on the policy of taking away land that naturally belongs to the adivasis and handing them over to the industrial houses and define this as development. And anyone who has a faint idea of the political landscape in Orissa will know that the people of the State will have to chose between the Congress party or the BJD-BJP combine this time too.

We traverse to Andhra Pradesh now. Unlike in Orissa where the political discourse is polarized so completely, the scene in Andhra Pradesh, as it is now, provides a wide range of choice to the voter. The people of the State, as it is, can chose the Congress or the TDP-Left-TRS combine or try out Chiranjeevi’s Prajarajyam. And the BJP does not seem to have even an outside chance from Andhra Pradesh as it is now. All this, however, are only apparent. The reality is that the choice before the people of Andhra Pradesh is to ensure the formation of a coalition at the Centre led either by the Congress or the BJP. The Telegu Desam, the TRS and the Praja Rajyam, given their social and political predilections will certainly veer towards a BJP-led coalition while the Left, even if they win only a couple of Lok Sabha seats from Andhra Pradesh will end up propping up a Congress-led coalition. And in any case, some more farmers will have their land acquired by the State Government for a pittance as compensation and handed over to a Satyam or a Maytas!

Tamil Nadu too points to a similar story. The DMK-led front that swept the polls in May 2004 is now in a shamble. At the time of writing this, the DMK front consists of Karunanidhi’s sons, daughter and the several factions of the Congress party. The Lft parties are now firmly settled with Jayalalitha. Vaiko’s MDMK, though a part of the ADMK-Left alliance as it is may remain there or end up cobbling another front in the days ahead. The PMK and its leader, Dr. S.Ramadoss are negotiating with anyone and everyone except cine-star Vijayakant. And one does hear that the Congress party too is negotiating simultaneously with both the DMK and the ADMK! That the Left leaders are baffled is evident from their refrain that they are going by the belief that their alliance with the AIADMK is settled as of now.

Well, there is one thing that can be said with certainty: That the DMK is down if not out and the Congress is worried of its bleak prospects if Sonia Gandhi insists on going with Karunanidhi. And Sonia Gandhi seems to be worried of the behavioral disorders that Jayalalitha suffers. Recall the tantrums by the ADMK chief during the months when she sustained the first NDA regime or the instance when she resorted to abuses against Sonia Gandhi even while the two parties had a formal agreement. The Congress supreme seems to be working on a plan that she could go over to Jayalalitha in the post-poll context if that was going to be necessary to sustain a Congress-led coalition. And Jayalalitha too will be fine with that as long as she gets the Congress to pull down the Karunanidhi regime in Tamil Nadu in the process. And as for the people of Tamil Nadu, it does not make any difference. It is unlikely, as it appears now, that a majority of the voters will decide to register their protest against the DMK and the ADMK together and vote for a candidate put by Vijayakant’s DMDK. And even if that happens, the cine-star will have no other option than becoming a part of either a Congress-led front or a BJP-led front and share the spoils of power.

In Kerala, the choice before the voters has been between the Congress and the Left. And since 2004, there was a sense of absurdity to this anyway. The Left parties that swept the polls defeating the Congress party ended up sustaining the Congress-led UPA for most of the term. The situation this time is not very different except for the fact that the Left is no longer in a position to claim an advantage. And given the scandal involving Pinarayi Vijayan and the dogged manner in which the party’s Politburo has stod up in his defence, the party could end up facing the worst rout it has ever suffered from Kerala this time. The Congress, hence, could make good from Kerala of the losses in the number of Lok Sabha seats from Andhra Pradesh this time. And as for Pinarayi and the CBI, it will depend upon the way the game of numbers will evolve after May 16, 2009. In other words, if the Congress is forced to depend on the Left for forming the next Government, the Left even with the reduced number of seats it will have will readily support that project in exchange for an assurance from Sonia Gandhi that the CBI will cover up the SNC-Lavalin scam.

Karnataka seems poised for a direct fight between the mafia that is now with the BJP and those who are with the Congress with H.D.Deve Gowda promising to amuse one and all with his claims to represent the secular-democratic alternative. And as it appears, the Congress is hardly in a position to improve in a significant way from where it stood in May 2004. The several factions that constitute the Congress party in Karnataka will ensure that the party’s candidates lose elections as it happened in May 2004 and in the assembly elections last year. The BJP had won 18 of the 28 Lok Sabha seats from Karantaka in the last election and even if it improves this time, the gains may not be all that significant to make a difference in the overall tally in the next Lok Sabha.

The scene in Maharashtra is equally amusing. The Shiv Sena is down and so is the BJP. The Sena-BJP combine had won 25 of the 48 seats from the State in May 2004. And there is now the Congress-NCP alliance that seems settled for now. But, there is no assurance of any kind that Sharad Pawar will remain in the fold and will not support a Government by the BJP in New Delhi. All that Pawar will be interested is an important ministry to himself and a rewarding portfolio to his aide, Praful Patel. The fate of the farmers in Vidharba, where over 32,000 suicides have been recorded in the past decade is not going to make the leaders wink. And the political establishment is as much united when it comes to dealing with the adivasis who are rallied behind the Narmada Bachao Andolan.

The Congress, the NCP, the BJP and the Shiv Sena agree on the way these poor tribals must be dealt with and in this they have a strong leader in Narendra Modi! The Gujarat scenario is unlikely to change significantly from what it was in May 2004 and in the assembly elections last year. The BJP had won as many as 14 out of the 26 seats from Gujarat in May 2004 leaving the rest to the Congress. It is likely that things would turn out to be the same and even after the strong indictment against Modi and his cabinet colleague Maya Kodnani for having led a killer mob against the Muslims in March 2002, the BJP manages to win seats from Gujarat. The Congress, after all, has not done any aggressive campaign in defence of secularism in Gujarat.

In Rajastan, meanwhile, there could be some gains to the Congress and the BJP that won 21 out of the 25 seats from the State could end up with fewer seats than in May 2004. There is, as we all know, no other choice for the voters in Rajastan and the same is true of Madhya Pradesh. It looks like that the BJP will retain most of the 25 seats it had won in 2004. There are 29 Lok Sabha seats from Madhya Pradesh. In Chattisgarh too, the choice is between the BJP that won 10 out of the 11 seats in May 2004 and the Congress managing to win just one seat. It is unlikely to be different this time and in any case both the Congress and the BJP are in agreement over such issues like the detention of Binayak Sen or the setting up of the Salwa Judum against the Maoists. The people, meanwhile, have their fate determined so clearly: To survive as long as they can and struggle against the political establishment that is out there to sell off the natural resources to anyone who pays them off. Jharkhand is no different with the people having to choose between Shibhu Soren, Madhu Koda, Simon Marandi or anyone who has made money and is willing to invest some part of it in this election.

All this leads to Uttar Pradesh, where the battle is between Mulayam Singh an Mayawati. Neither the BJP nor the Congress have a major presence there and both Mulayam and Mayawati are potential allies to any one of them as and when the necessity arises. The point is that both these leaders are facing charges of having wealth disproportionate to their known sources of income and the CBI is involved in turning them into criminals and saints alternately. The only thing consistent about the CBI is that if Mulayam is a saint today, then Mayawati is a criminal and if Mayawati is made into a saint tomorrow it is certain to make Mulayam a criminal. The truth, however, is that both of them have made tonnes of money and siphoned out a large portion of that to outside India. The scene from Bihar is not clear. It is possible that the 40 seats from Bihar are shared equally by the RJD and the Janata Dal (United)-BJP combine this time and unlike the sweep registered by the RJD last time.

The point is that for the first time perhaps in the history of our republic, we have an election where issues are there in plenty but none of them will determine the outcome of the polls. We are clearly in a stage where the political discourse is being determined by the instincts of our leaders, across the spectrum, to preserve themselves and land themselves into positions of power so that they can enrich themselves by several crores of rupees. The fact is that all the parties, including the Left, is now in the same boat and the people of India are caught between one corrupt party and another.