Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Revolving Doors of Indian Politics

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

It was late in the night. The year was 1998. The setting was a teevee studio in a remote corner of New Delhi. The participants in the discussion were then ‘senior Congress leader’ Sharad Pawar, bearded trampoline Prannoy Roy and a whole litany of non-Prannoy Roys, none of whom had fled the nest yet. As the votes came in, initial projections told us that – as expected – no party or coalition had a clear majority. As per its senior leader in the studio, the Congress was still intent on keeping the BJP out of power. When asked by one of the non-Prannoys how they would manage that, Pawar said that they would try to kiss and make up with the United Front. This shocked the non-Prannoy, who spent the next hour expressing his shock that the Congress was ready to prop up the same government that it had withdrawn support from twice in the last one year. It was ready to return to the status quo after foistering an expensive mid-term poll on the taxpayers. A political party playing politics! When did that start happening, the non-Prannoy wondered out loud.

This same naiveté was on display recently when we were informed that voter disenfranchisement enthusiast, Subramanian Swamy, was merging his one man party with the BJP. Because if there is one thing that the BJP needs, it’s another megalomaniac bigot who desperately wants to be Prime Minister. While scary music played over a montage of Swamy meeting and posing with various BJP leaders, questions were raised about how this came about. Wasn’t this the same guy who until a few years ago was the mortal enemy of one of the BJP’s tallest leaders? Didn’t he engineer the downfall of the first NDA government? All the Prannoys and non-Prannoys were shocked! Even though anyone who wasn’t in a coma would have seen this coming, the people whose job is to know things were dumbfounded.

Mortal enemies becoming best friends or best friends becoming mortal enemies is something that happens very often in Indian politics. As one irritating non-Prannoy never fails to remind us, a week is a long time in Indian politics. That is why our politicians’ favourite parlour game is ‘Six Degrees of Ajit Singh.’ The current civil aviation and the human embodiment of everything that is wrong with Indian politics has been in more parties than Suhel Seth at New Year’s eve. Almost every party or politician has been in an alliance with him at some stage in the past few decades. It’s sort of a rite of passage in Indian politics! Everybody has a mind-numbing, terrible, Ajit Singh anecdote. 

Political parties usually discover how horrible their former ally is as soon as they end their alliance. Like when the Trinamool Congress found out that the UPA is corrupt the day after they withdrew support. Or the current exchange of rhetoric between the BJP and the JD(U). Suddenly, the JD(U) finds the BJP communal and the BJP finds the JD(U) incompetent! You know what they say, keep your friends close for seventeen years and have no compunction in taking support from your enemies. Mulayam Singh Yadav never fails to remind people that the Congress party is a parasite on the Indian polity whose only purpose is its own sustenance. Yet, the Samajwadi Party is always the one to pull the UPA out of its self-made rubble. After the last general election, a humbled Mayawati declared her party’s support for the UPA, a year after trying to topple it to make herself the Prime Minister. Since our political parties don’t really have an ideology, they have no qualms in aligning with whoever gives them the best deal. 

Most of our politicians would like you to forget about the past. Smriti Irani once threatened to go on a ‘fast unto death’ if Modi didn’t resign but now she is one of his trusted lieutenants. Najma Heputulla found the BJP ‘politically acceptable’ and ‘totally secular’ when she figured the Congress wouldn’t be nominating her for another term in the Rajya Sabha. Buta Singh has been a minister in both Congress-led and BJP-led governments, but would like you to most remember him for being “Rajiv Gandhi’s #2,” according to whichever lowly intern was paid to edit his wikipedia page.

However, since August is now ‘Anna Hazare awareness month,’ it’s fitting that this week’s award for the most hilarious incident of hypocrisy goes to the un-caped anti-corruption crusader. Hazare, known hater of western ideas is now heading on an American junket. He is scheduled to ring the bell at the NASDAQ stock exchange. Apparently, the best way to fight corruption is letting yourself be used as a prop at the ground zero of crony capitalism. Looks like all that fasting made Ralegan Siddhi’s worst nightmare quite irony deficient.

As he felt the wheels of the plane touching the ground, Anna Hazare took off his ‘gandhi topi’ and put it in his bag. He wouldn’t need it for the next few days. Finally, he was going to be able to fulfil his childhood dream. He never imagined that he could ever travel to America. So he pretended to hate it. Now that he was here, he could live his life. Be himself, without being judged for it. All he wants to do is get a drink, find a nice lady to dance with and then take her to his hotel room. For how long has he denied himself these simple pleasures just because he was expected to? All that ends today! He could do anything here! And he wouldn’t need to explain his actions to anyone. “Whatever happens in America, stays in America,” he happily mumbled to himself. He felt his heart would burst with joy. Which was new to him, because since 1942, the only emotion he’d allowed himself to feel was acute misery. Seems like Christmas was going to be a little early this year.

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