It is the Politics, Stupid!

First published by News Insight, 2007

The bane of Indian politics is political gamesmanship. May be it is the bane of all politics in all nations but in India the absurdity of political theatre comes at a very high price – delay in justice, delay in economic growth, delay in social change, and delay in security and prosperity.

Politicians are not the only ones to be blamed because they are surely a reflection of the society that cultivated and encouraged them. Thus, when the Indo-Nuclear deal is stalled and a plethora of pundits unpack, pack, and re-unpack the details of the Hyde Act, the 123 Agreement, eta, eta, what is forgotten or ignored is that this impasse in agreeing to the deal is not necessarily based on substance as much as it is the result of a government hell bent on demonizing the opposition, undermining opposition ruled governments, and poking the eye of the opposition in every manner possible. In such a vicious atmosphere, where ideological posturing is merely a mask for covering up one’s own dirt and for undermining the opposition the result can only be more bad governance, and rudderless leadership. Academics, social activists, and sundry others have joined to demonize, for example, the BJP and if the BJP, at this point, turns on a dime to oppose the nuclear deal, then one cannot but understand the anger and frustration that has driven its leaders to poke the Congress Party in the eye. An “eye for an eye” is very much part of Indian politics: forget all the babble about what Gandhiji said about such a philosophy of life.

The UPA government has not lost one chance and cooked up every opportunity possible to drive the BJP, the main and largest Opposition party into a corner. Whether it is the foisting of a mediocre woman accused of criminality onto the ramparts of Raisina Hill, or denying the BJP the opportunity to form a government in Goa, or not taking into confidence the BJP leaders in matters of national importance, or invoking the term “communal” at any opportunity to demonize the BJP the UPA government, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has failed to build consensus in the country on almost every issue. An opposition can be a responsible opposition only when the game is played according to rules of sportsmanship, not gamesmanship.

The pathetic case of the UPA government is in interesting ways similar to the problem that the Republican Party and the Bush government are facing in the United States. Ugly, bare-knuckled politics crafted by the likes of Karl Rove in which anyone asking questions about the Bush administration is labeled as lacking in patriotism or worse yet, helping the terrorists, has won few friends in the opposition. The Singh-Bush tango was therefore doomed to fail because of what their administrations have done to vitiate politics in their respective countries.

American politics and political institutions, though severely tested in the past couple of decades, still are embedded in an otherwise prosperous nation. However, in India the price the ordinary person pays for bad government is huge. Hundreds of millions are malnourished, go hungry, are illiterate, live in shanty towns and dilapidated villages with no roads, no drinking water, and who are forced to pock-mark the countryside with their daily waste because literally there is no other place for them to shit!

The state of Indian politics is such not just because of the politicians but also because of the paradoxes that is part of the foundation of the Indian state. On the 60th anniversary of the gaining of Indian independence the usual “intellectuals” held forth on the nature of Indian democracy and the Indian state, and mouthed platitudes that went unchallenged by newspaper editors who seem to use their scalpel only for dissecting their pet project of scorn.

Writing in The Guardian, that left/liberal British newspaper which The Hindu apes, Shashi Tharoor writes in an essay commemorating the 60th anniversary of Indian independence. Tharoor peddles the tired old formula that in India everyone is a minority, and that Gandhi and Nehru (without whom modern India would not be modern India, according to court historians) envisioned a country that is an “ever-ever land”: “So under Mahatma Gandhi and Prime Minister Nehru, Indian nationalism was not based on any of the conventional indices of national identity. Not language, since India's constitution now recognizes 22 official languages, and as many as 35 languages spoken by more than a million people each. Not ethnicity, since the ‘Indian’ accommodates a diversity of racial types in which many Indians (Punjabis and Bengalis, in particular) have more ethnically in common with foreigners than with their other compatriots. Not religion, since India is a secular pluralist state that is home to every religion known to mankind, with the possible exception of Shintoism. Not geography, since the natural geography of the subcontinent - framed by the mountains and the sea - was hacked by the partition of 1947. And not even territory, since, by law, anyone with one grandparent born in pre-partition India - outside the territorial boundaries of today's state - is eligible for citizenship. Indian nationalism has therefore always been the nationalism of an idea: It is the idea of an ever-ever land - emerging from an ancient civilisation, united by a shared history, sustained by pluralist democracy. India's democracy imposes no narrow conformities on its citizens.”

He also crows, that “… the sectarian Hindu chauvinists have lost the battle over India's identity. The sight in May 2004 of a Roman Catholic political leader (Sonia Gandhi) making way for a Sikh (Manmohan Singh) to be sworn in as prime minister by a Muslim (President Abdul Kalam) - in a country 81% Hindu - caught the world's imagination…” This is plain and utter nonsense. An unelected leader foisted by a scheming head of a Congress-mafia family does not either embody diversity or democracy. What happened in May 2004 was not because of the people’s will but because people were manipulated by a marriage of convenience between the Congress Party and the Communist/Left parties who together have demonized the BJP. The BJP does not represent sectarian Hindu chauvinism for if it did, then Abdul Kalam, who swore in Manmohan Singh would not have been president. It is not sectarian because George Fernandez was the Defense Minister in the NDA Government.

What the U.N. smooth talker also conveniently forgets is that minorityism is enshrined in the Indian Constitution. Article 30 of the Constitution guarantees the Right to minorities (and minorities only) to establish and administer educational institutions. It says, Article 30 (1) that “All minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice. Article 30 (2) states, “The State shall not, in granting aid to educational institutions, discriminate against any educational institution on the ground that it is under the management of a minority, whether based on religion or language.” This is what led the Ramakrishna Mission to claim minority status because the state kept intruding into its affairs as a majority religion institution!

Tharoor claims that “we are all minorities in India.” That is indeed a matter of fact, but that is not indeed a matter of law. So, what is true of his claim is irrelevant. He says that “a Hindi-speaking Hindu male from Uttar Pradesh may cherish the illusion he represents the ‘majority community’. But he does not. As a Hindu, he belongs to the faith adhered to by four-fifths of the population. But a majority of the country does not speak Hindi. And, if he were visiting, say, my home state of Kerala, he may be surprised to realise that a majority there is not even male…. Even his Hinduism is no guarantee of his majorityhood, because caste divisions automatically put him in a minority. (If he is a Brahmin, for instance, 90% of his fellow Indians are not.)” Once again, what is factual is not part of the law. For example, the Hindu Civil Code is for all Hindus – whether he or she be from Uttar Pradesh or Kerala, light skinned or dark skinned, or a Brahmin or a Shudra.

Thus the sleight of hand, the rhetorical ploy that the former U.N. administrator uses is only good to convince the gullible reader or the pathological ideologue. That Tharoor has convinced himself of it is either indicative of his gullibility or of his ideology.

But back to where we started all this. If at all the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal falls through it is neither because of the hypocrisy of the BJP nor merely because of the extreme ideology of the Communists. It is because in India democracy is built on faulty foundations. As Arvind Lavakare says about the Indian Constitution and its drafters, “The fact that over 100 Constitutional Amendment Bills have been introduced till now and that the 94th Amendment Act came into effect from June last year prove that our founding fathers just didn't have a clue about the future…. They created what is probably the world's longest Constitution but laid down privileges for the 'minorities' without defining the word 'minorities'. They created a Republic out of a nation partitioned on the basis of religion without insisting on a common civil law. They created 'Equality before law' under Article 14 but scattered reservations and discriminations all over the place. One Article here is 'notwithstanding' another Article elsewhere. Freedom of speech is subjected to conditions, with even Parliament being denied discussion of the conduct of a high court or Supreme Court judge excepting during a motion of his impeachment. They failed to see the need for a federal police. And, without any discussion, they threw out a freedom fighter's song to let one man decide on the national anthem.”

So, unlike the fatuous claim of Tharoor that Gandhi’s and Nehru’s vision of India as an “ever-ever land,” the reality is that India is more of a “never-never land” where politics is mostly of the convenient and vicious kind. That the Congress Party should not expect the BJP to support any of its initiatives is not because the BJP is curmudgeon but because the Congress Party has been downright criminal in its manipulation of politicians, minority groups, and political institutions. The latest is the attempt to thwart the BJP from assuming power in Karnataka, where they had a deal with the JD (S) to share power. The Janata Dal (Secular) president, Deve Gowda, who had vowed never to have truck with “communalists” joined hands with the BJP to defeat the Congress-coalition government, and assured the BJP that after his son Kumaraswamy was Chief Minister for two years, the BJP leader in the Legislative Assembly, Yediyurappa, could become Chief Minister. Now the Congress Party-wallahs are conspiring to rejoin hands with the corrupt and cunning feudal leader to rob the BJP of what should be its just reward.

The Congress Party, as the most powerful and largest national party, is the most culpable in making Indian politics so vulgar and lawless. If the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal fails, it is just desserts for the completely unethical leaders of that party.

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