Sunday, May 25, 2008

How Things Change !

Arun Shourie

These days when those guardians of secularism, our newspapers, refer to the Secular Front, they put the label -- "Secular" -- as well as the excuse -- "to combat communal forces" -- within inverted commas! Those who used to preface their remarks about Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee with, "The right man in the wrong party", suddenly emphasize only "The right man" part! "Things are all going right," says a person who has feasted off secular governments for ten years, as I run into him -- I don't immediately get what he thinks is going right, so out of touch have I been with him. "I mean, we are not going to get just a stable government, we are going to get a BJP government," he says enthusiastically. Suddenly multinationals are analyzing my friend Gurumurthy's articles and speeches -- how far will they take "swadeshi"?, they want to know, to what extent does the party share his views?, they search. Who will be the Finance Minister?, they ask.

Sitting alone in my study, poring over law reports of distant Pakistan, I am roused to the change. Friends ring up, distant acquaintances -- they want to help a national cause, they say; they want to reach Mr. Vajpayee and Mr. Advani through "a completely reliable person," "and who could be more reliable than you ?" All because I am "close-to-BJP" by acclamation, courtesy our secularist newspapers. The boons labelers confer... But how deep these impressions are etched : when I tell the callers the truth, as I ask them to contact someone like my friends Gurumurthy and Arun Jaitley, they conclude I am being difficult.

Thus, one of the rules in discourse is, "Even calumny has its recompense" -- were I to do no more than keep silent and not deny the rumour, I could, at least for a few weeks, make a handsome killing! The other rule surely is, "The greater the calumny, the swifter the turn-around." Secularists are the ones who have prepared the ground for the turn-around. In the name of secularism, in the name of "keeping the communal monster at bay", they legitimized the ganging up of all sorts -- with what face can they denounce the BJP today as it does the same thing ? Indeed, their discomfiture is even greater : for some of the persons and groups who are crossing over are the very ones whom the secularists had built up as the great dykes against communalism. Not only are they crossing over, while doing so they are declaring again and again that "secularism" was just a pretense, an excuse for grabbing office. "No party has pursued communal and casteist politics for as long as the Congress," declares the Congressman. "Behind the slogan of social justice, Laloo and Mulayam Singh have only spread casteism," says the progressive. "The Congress has only used the Muslims as a vote-bank," says the Muslim leader. "Kanshi Ram and Mayawati are not interested in the welfare of Dalits at all," certifies the BSP leader, "They are only interested in their dictatorship and corruption." "The Congress has done nothing for the tribals, it has just used and exploited them," says the tribal leader.

But isn't that exactly what communalists like me have been saying all along ?!

And there is always The Times Of India, one of the six great weather-vanes in the world. In the days that preceded Justice Sinha's judgment, it did all it could to denigrate JP and the students' movement. When in the wake of the judgment, it seemed for a moment that Mrs Gandhi could not hold on, the paper pronounced it was time for her to go. She had but to impose the Emergency, and this great oracle was denouncing JP -- he had compelled Mrs. Gandhi to call a halt to anarchy, she had been left with no alternative, she just had to move to save the country from foreign-controlled conspirators. Throughout the Emergency, it kept up a chorus -- paeans to trains running on time. The 1977 election results had but to come in, and its stalwarts declared, "We have been through veritable hell." A hell worse than the others, they said : for the others were doing the easy thing -- opposing the Emergency openly; the paper had been left with the much more onerous and dangerous task -- of opposing it from within while making sure that no one realized it was doing so!

In line with this tradition, the paper has let few excel it during the last few years in fabricating stories about the BJP -- one month the RSS had decided to dump Advani for Vajpayee, the next the RSS had decided to dump Vajpayee... The paper is still fabricating stories -- but now to catch BJP's eye!

On 22 December, it carries a story about Sonia going abroad. While published accounts say she is going to Europe to meet her son, the paper reports, "informed sources close to 10 Janpath claim [why they should advance the claim to The Times of India is naturally a trade secret] that it is not a vacation trip but is connected with serious business relating to her family matters..." "The same sources claim that Mrs. Gandhi will be visiting a South East Asian country, where she is expected to meet with a prominent Italian businessman who left the country several years ago." Mystery, mystery. In the next sentence, Sherlock Holmes himself : "It may be mentioned that Mr Ottavio Quattrochi, who is wanted in connection with the Bofors investigation, is now settled in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia" -- mystery solved. But then, caution -- lest someone accuse them of not giving the victim a fair chance: "Thanks to the secrecy surrounding all the goings-on in 10 Janpath, these claims could not be confirmed from there." But next, sticking bravely to the concoction : "However, sources in 10 Janpath agreed [as if they had earlier disagreed] that Mrs Gandhi would soon depart on a planned trip. [When was the last time you went on an unplanned trip?] They claimed that it was an 'annual sojourn'. However, they refused to comment when asked whether she was going to Europe or the United States or to a South East Asian country as indicated by sources close to her. The same sources claim that Mrs Gandhi will enter active politics provided the discussion in South East Asia proved fruitful."

Safe, all angles covered : if Sonia enters active politics, the discussions in South East Asia would have been successful; if she does not, they would have been unsuccessful. And whether the discussions took place at all, no one will be able to fathom "thanks to the secrecy surrounding all the goings-on in 10 Janpath."

Every ass knows that these days if you need to be in touch with someone, there is need not at all to meet him, that if you have to meet on the sly "a prominent Italian businessman" who is so prominently settled in Kuala Lumpur, the last place you'd go to is Malaysia. He could meet you in Europe without any of the six great papers in the world being any the wiser.

That was a single-column story on 22nd December. By 26 December, the conspiracy-theories had swollen to a five-column spread, "Is checkmated Sonia seeking BJP allies?" By now the sources were informing the sixth greatest fabricator that she was maintaining a "clandestine liaison" not just with "the prominent Italian businessman", but with the BJP! Sonia -- who till the other day was treated with such deference that if she met anyone, it was described as her giving "an audience" -- was now referred to as "the Italian daughter-in-law of Indira Gandhi who regarded the world as her oyster so long as the Congress was at her beck and call." The paper said that she had given her "secret blessings" to the pro-BJP utterances of Mamata Banerjee [whose expulsion, the paper had portrayed three days earlier as a sign of Sonia Gandhi's failure], and even the cross-overs of Kumarmangalam and Aslam Sher Khan had been given the go-ahead by "the Sonia camp". Scared as the paper said she is at the prospect of BJP's victory, would she be working to leave herself entirely defenceless by helping kill the Congress completely ?

Even a fool would know the answer, but what took the cake as far as I was concerned was the next nugget. "The group of advisers not averse to Mrs Gandhi having a tacit 'understanding' with the BJP to protect herself and the trusts and bodies named after the Nehru dynasty," the paper had uncovered, included none other than my own cousin-friend-brother-in-law, Suman Dubey! A more improbable advocate for a "clandestine-liaison", for anything "tacit" even the Vatican could not have found! By the next day, Mr Vajpayee had affirmed that there was nothing to the story. And Suman had been elevated : saying that "10 Janpath is becoming increasingly displeased" over stories of this kind, The Asian Age reported, "The report [the one in The Times of India] mentioned the names of Mr Suman Dubey and Ms Sheila Dixit as among her 'group of advisors'. Both the leaders promptly denied and wrote angry rebuttals..."

And between them The Pioneer and The Asian Age solved the mystery once and for all. The Pioneer informed us, "Mrs Sonia Gandhi is celebrating her Christmas vacation this year in Thailand..."-- as the day on which the report appeared was December 28, we could safely conclude that she was already in Thailand. The paper said that "Family troubles" -- which it identified as the desire of her son to marry a Columbian girl -- had made the chances of her "assuming a role in the coming poll", remote. That very day, The Asian Age's lead story was entitled, "Sonia will campaign for Congress finally." The paper assured us that she had finally made up her mind to do so, and that her detailed tour programme was likely to be announced in two-three days. As for her travel plans, the paper quoted her spokesman as saying, "...She had no plans to visit the United States. She is very much here and will be here."

I am not on the accuracy of such fabrications, but on the fact that the paper, The Times of India, which was till the other day in the forefront of fabricating stories to do in the BJP is now fabricating them against Sonia Gandhi! From this I deduce that Sonia is not the only one who is running scared at what the BJP may do about investigations that are in the works.

"But by going in for these alliances, by admitting these persons the BJP is losing its character," the carpers say today. But that complaint lies better with communalists like me, for you, my friends, are the ones who have been denouncing the original character as "Fascism" -- the austerity you saw in some of them, you denounced as "puritanism", the discipline as proof of authoritarianism, that they talked of Hinduism, as proof of "right-wing fanaticism", that they were for a Common Civil Code and against Article 370 as proof of their determination to erase minorities and their "identity", that they would commence their meetings with invocations to the motherland as proof of planning "pogroms of Muslims". So, friends, if the party is shedding that character, why are you again in a tizzy ?

For years now I have been dumbfounded at the sheer irresponsibility of the controllers of discourse here. By singing hosannas to socialism, by painting Rajaji and others in vile colours, by glossing over everything which was being done in the name of socialism -- the inefficiencies of public sector units, the ruinous adventures of Mrs Gandhi : the nationalizations, for instance -- these persons caused the country to lose a generation. They have repeated the same sequence and inflicted as much injury through "secularism". By denouncing AASU as the tool of communalists, by unnerving governments when they tried to repatriate Bangladeshis, these cavilers made the country into a wastepaper basket that must by definition take in the discards of others. By concocting stories against our forces in Punjab and Kashmir, they facilitated the task of terrorists.

In exactly the same way, by making the BJP out to be such a demon, they have sown great trouble for the future. Suppose for a moment that, in spite of them, the BJP does come to power. Would their past propaganda not scare away scarce foreign resources? Which investor in his right mind would want to invest in a country which is soon going to be plunged into "pogroms" and a consequential civil war ? Would the Muslims not be thrown into dread? Would that panic not become self-fulfilling? The assumption having been drilled into them that the BJP will launch "pogroms", some sections will prepare for the denouement.... On the other side, the calumny would certainly have caused a heap of resentment to pile up among many Hindus. They will be bursting to take it out -- exactly what happened in the case of the Babri mosque.

But do our friends care ?

Of course, the BJP would be ill-advised if it set store by the sudden turn-around in the press. Just recall the glowing accounts these papers used to write about Mr. Narasimha Rao as the modern Chanakya. Just recall the cover-stories they were putting out just a few months ago about "King Kesri". And see what they are writing about these very persons today.

As Mr Vajpayee has said, every seat will have to be fought for diligently. Thus far, the main thing that has happened is the disarray in the Congress and in the United Front. On the other side are the two main achievements of the BJP : it has been functioning as a team, its campaign is off and running while the others are bogged down explaining departures; and it has a prime ministerial candidate while others have none. But as the days go by, the difficulties which inhere in the successes of the past two weeks will surface. Some of the persons who have crossed over will prove difficult to digest. The very fact that the party is now seen as the one liable to win will intensify the jostling for its nominations. Through all these pulls and pressures the leadership will have to squeeze in at least a few candidates who are better equipped to man a government. More than all this, the party will soon have to decide how much of a Congress it can afford to be : the AGP in Assam became a Congress all right, and won. But see the ditch in which it is...

And if the party is not able to vault over these dilemmas, or if the lust for office prevails over their personal animosities, those ardent secularists -- Mulayam Singh, Kanshi Ram, Laloo and the rest -- may still "come together" for polling day. The papers will somersault again, and again cry "Victory". "BJP fails to live up to its hype," the very ones who would have created that hype will proclaim...

December 12, 1997

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