Thursday, 3 July 2008

Our Venal Politicians

I though M K Pandhe’s remarks about Muslims and the nuclear deal was the desperate rantings of a rabble-rouser from a party full of them. And that others would refrain from such outrageous statements. But clearly our politicians love disappointing those who have any expectations of them. Now others are also picking up the refrain. First, one newspaper reported an anonymous Congress leader worrying about the Muslim fallout. Then Mayawati goes to town about how the nuclear deal is anti-Muslim. And now the Samajwadi Party (which, incidentally, told Pandhe that it didn’t need a certificate of secularism from the CPM) is supposed to be worrying about the Muslim reaction! All the television channels are going on about how the SP is trying to find a via media between saving the government and not alienating its Muslim votebank.

Has anyone asked the Muslims what they really feel? But this is the problem with our political parties – they just assume the role of spokespersons for entire communities. So the BJP decides that it is the sole protector of Hindu interests and the Left, the SP and Ram Vilas Paswan’t Lok Janshakti Party and Lalu Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal claim to be the only ones speaking for the Muslims and the poor, while Mayawati has assumed the role of saviour of the Dalits, even though many Dalits may be cringing at her tactics and a lot of it is about uplift of her own family than of Dalits in general.

What is also worrying is the SP cosying up to the Congress. If it does save the government in the event of the Left withdrawing support, it will want its pound of flesh. What will it be? The ostensible reason will be keeping `communal forces’ at bay (though why all those playing the Muslim card escape the `communal’ tag beats me). But the SP is hardly a party which functions on the basis of principles and ideals alone. There will be some hard bargaining on personal issues as well – not raking up cases, protection from Mayawati’s harassment, remaining a silent spectator to corruption by SP leaders. Let no one be fooled that this is about the nuclear deal alone. Amar Singh going to meet the National Security Adviser to understand the deal is all drama.

Today’s Times of India reports that among the SP’s wishlist is removal of the finance minister, petroleum minister, Reserve Bank governor and India’s ambassador to the US. This is downright ridiculous and I hope Manmohan Singh has the courage to say no. The problem is this time he may be under a lot of pressure from within the Congress to succumb. This is a small price to pay for a few more months in power. A stray thought – in making these demands, is the SP really acting on its own or is it somehow putting forward demands from the Left?

Why only the SP? What can one say to Ajit Singh, head of the Rashtriya Lok Dal, who was on television saying the opposition to the nuke deal is not on merits but is political. Does he think no one sees through the fact that his belated support is also political – with an eye on garnering Congress support? This is a man who goes along with every coalition government that comes to power at the Centre (and always becomes a minister) and he wants us to believe that he is in favour of the deal because of the merits. There’ll be some hard bargaining on his part, be sure.

Everybody is just fishing in troubled waters for their own gains.

Like it is happening in the case of Jammu and Kashmir over the land for Amarnath yatra pilgrims. Yesterday, I got an SMS about how Muslims are opposing the temporary shelter for Amarnath pilgrims, so why should Hindus put up with a Haj terminal at the Indira Gandhi International Airport as well as Haj subsidies. It was sent by a friend but it must have been a forward and must have had its origins in some radical Hindu group. Anyway, that is neither here nor there.

The point is that these kind of sentiments are bound to grow given the mishandling of the entire issue and its exploitation by unscrupulous political groups. General S K Sinha, the former governor of Jammu and Kashmir, who is credited with the proposal to use forest land for facilities for the pilgrims, has said in an interview today that this was supposed to be a temporary facility for two months only, but that this fact is being ignored. He says the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) created trouble for its own political ends. Sinha is seen to be a BJP sympathiser. But keeping that aside, has anyone bothered to check if what he said is true. If it is, then shouldn’t that be explained to the people? Surely, ordinary Muslims in Kashmir, who have never been hostile to the yatra, would have understood? If he is lying, then surely he should be exposed. But nobody has bothered to do either.

The role of the PDP is not above suspicion. The marriage between the PDP and the Congress in Kashmir was always an uneasy one. So I have little doubt that the PDP has played some mischief here. So has the BJP, which has no doubt instigated the Hindu protests. But the BJP wouldn’t have had to work too hard for that. The spark had already been lit and it only had to do some clever and cynical fanning.

As we head for elections, these are extremely worrying signs.

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