Saturday, 26 April 2014

The Scalping of Daljeet Kohli: A Silly and Wasted Effort
In December 1997, this writer had gone to interview Pranab Mukherjee, then an ordinary MP of the Congress Party. The news of a Congressman, Rangarajan Kumaramangalam, joining the Bharatiya Janata Party had broken just an hour earlier. When I mentioned this to Mukherjee, he burst out with an incredulous look on his face: `Mohan-da’s son joining the BJP? How is that possible?’ 
For those who don’t know, Rangarajan (popularly known as Ranga) was the son of Mohan Kumaramangalam, a leading light of the Communist Party of India who joined the Congress in 1967 and became an integral part of Indira Gandhi’s leftist band. He had died in 1973 and so was spared headlines similar to those playing out a day after Manmohan Singh’s half-brother joined the BJP.
Mukherjee’s reaction to Ranga jumping parties and the current buzz over Singh’s brother shows one thing will never change in this country – the typical Indian refusal to see an individual and his or her choices outside of the family context.
Mukherjee’s reaction was not to a Congressman switching sides, but to a left-wing Mohan-da’s son joining a right-wing party. Daljeet Singh Kohli was just another businessman, whose decision to join a party would have been a `non-event’, as finance minister P. Chidambaram quite rightly put it. The only reason the BJP made his entry into its ranks a huge spectacle was his relationship with Manmohan Singh.
Modi’s reported statement on the occasion – `Dr Manmohan Singh’s brother has joined the BJP and this will add to our strength’ – reflects poorly, not on Singh and the Congress, but on himself. Is the BJP in such a bad shape that it requires the entry of a little-known brother of a man whom its leaders have never ceased to mock as the weakest-ever Prime Minister to give it strength? Does a party which is supposedly riding to victory on a Modi wave have to resort to such gimmickry?
Even as a political strategy – to show that everyone from the party to the family is abandoning Singh – it doesn’t make sense. It would have, if Singh was standing for elections and was prime ministerial candidate. He is not; he will retire from active politics and perhaps go into oblivion after his Rajya Sabha term is over. So what is to be achieved by `embarrassing’ him? It will only give a Congress which has already abandoned him a chance to say in private – see, we were right to junk him.
By the way, the Congress too has not shied away from splitting families on political lines, the most famous example being of the Scindia family, where Madhavrao was wooed into the Congress fold, deeply hurting his mother, Vijayaraje Scindia. So let the party not take a moral high ground on the Kohli affair.
The way the media has reported this is also a comment on its intellectual bankruptcy. Why should Kohli joining the BJP be an `embarrassment’ for Singh? Why is one brother said to have `deserted’ another?  Why is this a `psychological boost’ for the BJP? Didn’t the person writing this – and the editors clearing the copy – stop for a moment and think of the inherent contradiction between stories of a BJP on a high and requiring Kohli, of all people, as a psychological boost? Perhaps the most ridiculous aspect of this is Chidambaram being asked about it at a press conference where he was rubbishing Gujarat’s economic model. Shouldn’t the questions have focused on pinning him down on the UPA’s shaky economic performance, instead?
This is not the first time the media has tried to put Singh in a spot over the political leanings of his family members. The fact that his youngest daughter was working for a human rights organization in the Untied States criticizing the government’s counter-terrorism drive after 9/11 was, we were told, certain to embarrass him and affect his equation with the Bush administration. Didn’t it occur to anyone that this would be a non-issue in a culture which celebrates individualism and will not hold family members accountable for each other’s opinions and ideological leanings?
But why this obsession with family at all?
Why is Karuna Shukla quitting the BJP not about a senior party leader being sidelined but about Atal Behari Vajpayee’s niece on being ignored? If she were not Vajpayee’s niece would it have been alright for her to be ignored? Kohli too brings in the family angle. He says he joined the BJP because he was unhappy with the way the Congress treated his brother. So there is no ideological affinity with the party. (The irony of joining a party which has repeatedly mocked his brother in rather insulting terms is probably lost on him.)
Individuals can make choices that are different from that of their families. They are doing that all the time. They break away from the traditional occupations of their families and pursue their own paths. Children rebel against parents. Siblings take different paths. Families break up permanently with a lot of bitterness. And family members may even have irreconcilable ideological differences.
What’s more, this is quite common in Indian politics. Mohan Kumaramangalam’s father, P Subbarayan, who was a Congress leader, was supposed to have cried when his son became a communist. Subbarayan’s daughter, Parvati Krishnan, was also a member of the CPI. Ranga’s sister is in the BJP while his son has joined the Congress.
There are examples galore of families with members in different parties (apart from the Gandhi bahus, of course). Anil Shastri, son of Lal Bahadur Shastri, is in the Congress, while another son, Sunil, was with the BJP for several years before returning to the Congress, and a third son’s widow, Neera, is still with the BJP. One grandson, Siddharth Nath Singh, is in the BJP and another, Adarsh Shastri, has joined the Aam Aadmi Party. Noted lawyer, the late L.M Singhvi was in the BJP and his son Abhishek Manu Singhvi is a leading light of the Congress and was so even when his father was alive. Digvijaya Singh’s brother, Lakshaman Singh, quit the Congress for the BJP where he remained for 10 years before returning after a vituperative personal comment about his brother by Nitin Gadkari.
The ordinary public is quite aware of these differences in political families and their only reaction is one of amusement or cynical taunts about these families having ensured that they will benefit regardless of which party is in power.
How will they view the BJP holding up Kohli as a kind of trophy? There will be a few more jokes about Singh (mostly from die-hard BJP and Gandhi family supporters), some more about Kohli, but many more about the BJP. Is Kohli all that they could get, people are already sniggering. But mostly people will shrug it off. Singh is not even on their radar. That’s why the scalping of Kohli makes no sense at all.

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