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THINGS FALL APART

“Things fall apart/ The centre cannot hold” — W.B. Yeats. At least six internecine wars have erupted within the ruling establishment. First, is the well-known war between Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his titular deputy, Lal Krishna Advani. Advani’s problem is that of princes since time immemorial. Is it better to let the old king continue till the bell tolls — or is that the sure guarantee that the throne will be lost before the succession is ensured' The Bharatiya Janata Party has failed to win a single assembly election since it seized power at the Centre in 1998 (except for the one they stole in Goa — for which Mohammad Fazal has been rewarded with the Raj Bhavan in Mumbai). Exit from the corridors of power at the next Lok Sabha election thus stares it in the face. What then is the best way of crawling out of this trap' Overthrowing Vajpayee so that the next two years are used to change course' Or letting him take the rap, so that a new leadership at the next elections promises a different dispensation to Vajpayee’s' Or forcing a poll now in the hope of wresting back Delhi — albeit by a sliver — but running the risk of losing the remaining two years of the goodies of office' Dithering now or jumping into the fray in the certainty that things can only go from bad today to worse tomorrow' As he wrestles with his strategic dilemmas, Advani sharpens his dagger, cleans his pistol and parades his troops.

George Fernandes looks on with concern. He like Advani is on the wrong side of seventy, going on seventy-five. If the 2004 election is lost — as it is almost certain to be — both Fernandes and Advani will be octogenarians before destiny calls again. Why not, therefore, strike now' George’s problem is that Advani has got there first and heads, moreover, a party with nearly 200 members in the House. George is at best a dark horse who has to make do with about as many MPs as the fingers on his hands. But rational evaluations of strength and weakness have never been George’s forte. From his epic 1962 electoral battle with S.K. Patil on, he has always been narcissistically preoccupied with his giant-killer image. So he reckons that if without the BJP he cannot make it to the top, well, without George, the BJP could be toppled from the top.

Hence the big guns he has opened up on disinvestment. Advani has been reduced to silence. But words speak louder than the sounds of silence. George, recognizing that disinvestment — the centre-piece of the reforms programme — pulls in the notes but hardly the votes, has decided to make disinvestment his battle-field. That is why he has suddenly rediscovered his old socialist voice, not out of conviction — for George never had any — but out of sheer opportu- nism, a quality he has always possessed in abundance. The war over disinvestment is the second war of succession.

When the convenor of the National Democratic Alliance is himself leading the charge on the NDA, the little ones are hardly going to be left behind. So Mamata Banerjee has in verse sung her dirge of departure. Omar Abdullah has signalled the National Conference’s imminent parting of ways. The Samata Party has refused to team up with the BJP in Gujarat. So has the Janata Dal (United-sic!). Bal Thackeray’s assault on the NDA government is being trumpeted from the ramparts. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam is infuriated with the toey-toey going on with the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal does not even know if it is with Patnaik, let alone the NDA. The “coalition ethic” the NDA was once so proud of is now espoused only by the flotsam and jetsam of the alliance. Even they are repositioning themselves for the next elections. That is the third war of succession.

The fourth is the war within almost all of the NDA partners. The BJD’s Mayurbhanj MP does not even want his constituency to remain in Orissa, let alone the BJD. He has floated a new party with “Jharkhand” emblazoned on its flag. Devendra Yadav has so far fallen out with Sharad Yadav that he has been unceremoniously removed from his post of leader of the JD(U) parliamentary party. Prabhunath Singh, the most vocal of Samata MPs and their chief representative in the joint parliamentary committee on the stockmarket/Unit Trust of India scandals, has been expelled. With M. Karunanidhi having announced his retirement from politics, and Murasoli Maran out of action, the DMK is bifurcating between the Stalinists and brother Azhagiri’s men (and possibly trifurcating into sister Kanimozhi’s men). The only NDA partners remaining united are the one-man parties which cannot split from themselves or the fascist outfits which know the wrath of the devil will be visited upon them if they were to step out of line. So, just as every subedar fought with every other subedar to determine who would be the nawab to pay token tribute to the shahenshah, so Vajpayee watches on impotently (as we saw in Lucknow) as his potentates battle it out. That is the fourth war of succession.

The fifth is between the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the BJP. Strictly speaking, as both entities love to emphasize, the VHP is not part of the sangh parivar. Yet, it is more on this non-parivar force than even on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh that Advani relied to launch the chariot of fire which carried him from Somnath towards Ayodhya and now, he hopes, he prays, to the simhasan in Delhi. The VHP has no quarrel with Advani. But it has many with Vajpayee. Acharya Giriraj Kishore is Vajpayee’s most relentless critic because, being from outside the parivar, he has more liberty than those within to ask the sharpest questions and pose the most difficult choices. And since the VHP’s platform is wholly communal and quite unconcerned with governance, the harshest language and the bluntest formulations come from them. Yet, Vajpayee can hardly reply — because much of what the VHP says is sweet music to most of the BJP.

The sixth internecine war is between the sangh parivar and the prime minister. The Achilles heel of the BJP in government has from the start been that while it has come to power after half a century of political struggle, it has been able to get where it has only by “putting on the back-burner” (its phrase) almost everything it most cherishes. To ask the BJP backroom boy to eschew communalism for power is like asking a Congressman to forsake secularism. The RSS, and in particular its fuehrer, K.S. Sudarshan, is asking the obvious question: “Did we defeat the Congress to implement the policies of the Congress'” Vajpayee has no answers other than the obvious one: “If we go back on the NDA agenda, we will be back where we were for fifty years.” Unsurprisingly, ministers of the BJP find the argument convincing; no one else in the sangh parivar does.

Mired in corruption on a humungous scale and scorned for its failure to govern, the NDA does not know where it wants to go. And caught in the cross-fire between not only veteran Bal Thackeray and upstart Arun Shourie, but also between a callow Shourie and the seasoned trio of Pramod Mahajan, Uma Bharti and Ram Naik, the voter is getting fed up with the NDA. The common or garden sanghi knows this. Therefore, the civil wars in the ruling establishment are likely to give a premature quietus to the NDA government some time during the budget session, scheduled for immediately after the results are in for the five states going to polls in February 2003 — Gujarat, Himachal, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura. The BJP will be turfed out in two of the three remaining states it rules and will probably fail to win a singe seat in any of the three northeastern states. So, please excuse me while I go to get my election posters printed!

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