August 08, 2020
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Gaggle Of Geezers

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Gaggle Of Geezers
On a superficial reading, it is possible to conclude that in this sham fight between the forces of India’s self-respect and Sangh bigotry, the latter has won. It would be a false reading. Mean-spirited xenophobia, an egregious insult to India’s rich civilisational heritage, may actually have lost. The Hindu nationalists, who seem to be world champions at shooting themselves in the foot, have ended up making Sonia an infinitely more potent symbol than she was a week ago. I heard someone use the phrase "Saint Sonia" on Thursday not entirely in jest. Just as the foreign origin issue worked on a law of diminishing returns, forcing Sonia Gandhi out of the highest office in the land may, paradoxically, further strengthen the Congress and unleash a huge sympathy wave in favour of the Congress president personally—something she can encash at her convenience. Remember, renunciation is much valued and respected in our tradition. The King, in this case Queen, who voluntarily refuses the crown but promises to work for the welfare of the people exercises a powerful hold over the Indian imagination. Is there one leader in the BJP capable of making a similar sacrifice? Is it not ironical that finally a lady from Italy has taught us all the true meaning of being Indian?

Imagine if the smart guys in God’s Own Party had played this foreign origin game intelligently. They would have allowed Sonia’s coronation—and then made life miserable for her. If they could compel her to quit after she had been sworn in, then that would have been a victory worth savouring. I know of at least one BJP leader pleading with Uma Bharati to abandon her antics and not deprive the party of a fantastic issue. He was keeping his fingers crossed hoping Sonia would accept the job. Thus, the BJP failed not just in adhering to any high principle, but in the dirty business of tactics too. Political parties occasionally go through bad times. However, since the last 60 days, the BJP has not put a foot right. It has been an extended horror show.

Mr L.K. Advani does not have much of a reputation to defend, but Vajpayee has. Alas, he is now permanently damaged goods. The official word from the respective residences of these two worthies is that defeat has traumatised them, they remain stunned and therefore unable to control their berserk footsoldiers, who in 48 hours succeeded in creating an atmosphere of ugly religious hatred and racism in the country. The truth is, trauma or no trauma, the street hysteria masquerading as national self-respect had the blessings and support of Vajpayee, Advani and other BJP leaders. It is no coincidence that not a single voice was heard advising the chowchow protesters to conduct themselves within minimum democratic norms. One BJP leader told me on Tuesday that many more "spontaneous" suicides and self-immolations could be expected. What he did not say was that these were being orchestrated and organised by the BJP high command.

Examine the protesters! Some of them like Govindacharya have crawled out of the woodwork now that the "mask" is gone; Sushma Swaraj, fuming at being marginalised in Election 2004 by Messrs Mahajan, Jaitley and Venkaiah Naidu, swiftly seized the opportunity for some cheap grandstanding which verged on the comical; Uma Bharati, well, what can one say about Uma Bharati? This gaggle is supposed to represent national pride? This gaggle is supposed to represent Indian culture? It’s like saying Asrani represents Bollywood.

The anticipated fallout of the Sonia hatao andolan is the following: loyal Manmohan Singh has become the prime minister, Sonia stays on as Congress president. Together, they constitute an invincible pair. Backed by an enraged but energised Congress constituency—considerably expanded by sections of the English-speaking urban middle class (especially women) hitherto hostile to the foreign lady—India’s oldest political party stands to gain heavily from this successful coup masterminded by the parivar. The leadership of the Congress and its rank and file should actually bow in gratitude to Vajpayee, Advani, Sushma, etc for advancing medium-term Congress goals. If early general elections are held, say in two years, the Congress can expect to reach the magic figure on its own.

In the short term, meanwhile, let us contain our disgust and revulsion for those who claim to speak for the "real" India and wish Dr Manmohan Singh bon voyage.

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