Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Musings.... The possible shape of things in Tamil Nadu...

Conventional political wisdom may lead one to think that political parties do not disappear from our domain. But then, we do have instances such as the Telugu Desam faction that Lakshmi Parvathy headed for a while or that of the mammoth called the Janata Party that ruled India for a couple of years having disappeared from the political map. This may happen to the AIADMK at some point. Since its foundation in 1972, there is nothing ideological about its existence. As much as it was a fact that the party existed around the personality of MGR, it is now an entity that exists around the personality of J.Jayalalitha.

One may argue that someone could emerge there in the same way as Jayalalitha did after MGR. But then, the fact is that Jayalalitha did not arrive there from nowhere. MGR anointed her. O.S.Paneerselvam, whom Jayalalitha chose to don the Chief Minister’s mantle in 2001 and remains her confidante even now is not the one who can be seen as heading the party as does Jayalalitha post MGR. If this sounds reasonable, the logical course that a discussion on Tamil Nadu politics in a few years from now would tend to see the contest to be between the DMDK’s Vijayakanth and the DMK’s M.K.Stalin.

In other words, the emergence of the DMDK as the principal opposition party in the State assembly and the fact that Vijayakanth does not wear any ideology on his sleeves has thrown a fresh challenge to the DMK. The DMDK chief’s lack of political experience, and acumen in that sense, may have helped Stalin in normal times. But then, the DMK is now going through times that are difficult.

Stalin, on whom the DMK will lean soon, will have to jostle for the opposition space. Unlike in the past when the DMK, even after losing power, remained the alternative to the AIADMK, the scenario now is that the party will have to struggle hard to remain the alternative. Stalin’s position, hence, is most unenviable. And more so with Kanimozhi’s incarceration in Tihar and the DMK patriarch refusing to stay put and watch the law taking its course from a distance. It is also likely that a number of the second generation leaders of the DMK in the districts, on whom Stalin could lean upon, are accused of corruption charges by the Jayalalitha regime.

Vijayakanth may be innocent of ideology. But then, he seems to have a strategy in place. His response to the Governor’s address to the joint session, as leader of the opposition in the assembly, showed evidence to this. The DMK was his target. He seems to have someone with a long sight advising him. The endgame may be to build the DMDK as the alternative to the AIADMK in 2016. And for that, it is imperative to ensure that the DMK is reduced to a marginal force. The DMDK’s game plan seems to be to allow the crisis that is eating into the vitals of the DMK to take its toll and then occupy the space that emerges in the process. In this strategy, the DMDK does not have to turn pro-active in any major way. Vijayakanth will only have to wait and watch and take some baby steps in the course and as things unfold.

It remains to be seen if Stalin, on whom the DMK’s future hinges has the grit, the energy and the muscle to intervene in this course. A task that is easier stated than accomplished.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Baba Ramdev and his threats... some lessons from history

The frenetic pace at which some union ministers have gone about dealing with Baba Ramdev may seem to suggest that the Manmohan Singh Government means business when it comes to being responsive. A less charitable explanation to this would be that the UPA-II is aware of large support base that the saffron clad baba commands and that letting him start his fast would snowball into a crisis.

But then, the manner in which things have unfolded in the past couple of days have left a trail that should lead anyone with average intelligence to surmise that the script for this was written somewhere in the corridors of the political establishment; and the end game is to derail the process of drafting the Lokpal Bill. To see the sequence of events as mere evidence of the Government’s commitment to being responsive or as a knee jerk reaction to ward off a crisis will call for placing too much on coincidence.

Take the timing for instance. After the initial rounds of discussion, the ten-member committee to draft the Lokpal Bill has landed in a state where the Government side is unwilling to anything but a Lokpal that is toothless. The Government side seemed to have succeeded in causing frustration among the five-member team led by Anna Hazare and driven the nation into a sense of desperation: The word has gone around that things will not change. And this was when Baba Ramdev arrived on the scene announcing his decision to fast and presenting a list of demands, some of which are absurd to say the least. The script seemed to have been laid out and evidence to this was available when senior ministers went to the New Delhi airport to honour him!

The baba’s fast could have been held at the Vigyan Bhawan, from where the Vishwa Hindu Parishad held a conference of saffron clad sants way back on April 7 and 8, 1984. That would have established the role of the Congress-led Union Government without doubt. It appears that the managers in the Congress establishment have learnt some lessons in the art of covering up the trail! The baba and his ``disciples’’ could not have turned the Ramlila grounds into what they have done without help coming from the Delhi administration and without prior permission from the concerned departments including the police that comes under Union Home Minister P.Chidambaram. The parallels are too striking to be ignored; and it is also a case where the chunks of the script are copied and pasted from the disastrous 1980s to the present.

The next logical question here would be as to what makes Baba Ramdev the chosen hero in this script? The answer to this too can be drawn from the not-so-distant past. Recall the story of one Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. A small-time religious preacher and a sect leader in Amritsar was picked up by Zail Singh, then a leader of the Congress party in Punjab acting as Sanjay Gandhi’s pointman, with the sole aim of pushing the Shiromani Akali Dal out of business. That Bhindranwale was a Congress prop was evident from the fact that he went about orchestrating violence and was even the first accused in the killing of Lala Jagat Narain, a newspaper baron who had opposed the call for Khalistan, was allowed to roam about Amritsar and other parts of Punjab and the Congress Government simply looked the other way. Lala Jagat Narain was shot dead in April 1981. Sanjay Gandhi was dead by then. But the monster he had helped create had grown into a dreaded terrorist and rendered the Akali Dal into a pale shadow of its own past.

Baba Ramdev, indeed, is a prop discovered by important sections in the Congress party to push Anna Hazare and his team out of the business of pushing a meaningful Lokpal Bill. It is not possible to conclude as to whether the script has been approved by Sonia Gandhi or her son Rahul Gandhi. The fact is that Sanjay Gandhi had directed the Operation-Bhindranwale and Indira Gandhi had endorsed it in all stages. The point is that there seems to be very little indication of the Congress leaders learning from history. Bhindranwale did not stop with marginalizing the Akali Dal. Even after his death, in Operation Blue Star in June 1984, his followers went about killing innocent people and also such leaders as Indira Gandhi herself and Sant Harcharan Singh Longowal the most moderate among the Akali leaders.

The events that followed the conference that the then Congress Government facilitated at Vigyan Bhawan in April 1984 was no different. The Congress managers then may have planned to marginalize the BJP and the other arms of the RSS by way of propping up the VHP and deputing their own Karan Singh to steer the cacophony against Hindu’s converting to Islam; the Meenakshipuram conversions in 1981 provoked a campaign for enacting a law against conversions and the April 1984 conference at Vigyan Bhawan was a culmination of that. The strife that followed in the few years since then was not very different from the price that the nation had to pay for having allowed a Bhindranwale to emerge.

This lesson from our own short history is relevant to Anna Hazare and his followers too. Some of them may be naïve. But not everyone (including Kiran Bedi) there should pretend to gloss over the fact that Baba Ramdev, whose wealth and the means through which he has amassed them and controls large property in the name of the trusts he controls, is not too different from the political leaders and bureaucrats against whom the campaign is on. Hazare and some others in his fold are behaving the same way the Akali leaders responded to Bhindranwale at some point. This will have to stop.