ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Calcutta Diary

Between the Congress and the BJP there is really not much of a variation in the theme. Scarcely anything distinguishes, in terms of class lineage, leaders of the one lot from those of the other. The convergence of interests between the two parties is an unending affair. They share identical views on economic policy. It is all very gentlemanly. It is only those anxious to stress a sharp ideological cleavage between the two principal political parties who are having a trying time.

THE nonsectarian regime of the Congress Party was a benign watcher when the Babri Masjid was brought down. This allegation, some will say, is by now a cliche. That does not however detract from its relevance. Between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party there is really not much of a variation in the theme, at least going by the dramatis personae of the two parties. The leaders of both parties by and large come from the same social stratum and often even belong to the same household Mahatma Gandhi’s own granddaughter chooses to opt for the BJP, the party symbiotically linked to the outfit that spawned the likes of Nathuram Godse Madhav Rao Scindia was, once upon a time, in the BJP, he is currently a key functionary of the 10 Janpath Party. His ailing mother however continues to be the RSSlining party’s Queen Bee; and, irrespective of the whereabouts of the son, her two daughters, one of whom is already a union minister, are aiming for the Lok Sabha on the party’s ticket. Or what about Rangarajan Kumaramangalam, offspring of one of Indira Gandhi’s closest confidants, who himself was a Congress minister till the other day and has since taken a walk? Govind Ballabh Pant’s son and daughterinlaw too have taken the same route. Arun Nehru happens to be amongst the very few who still bear the famous family surname. He too is no longer satisfied with his role as a nonofficial adviser of the Hindu revivalists; he has decided to join them formally. Switches have taken place, and are taking place, in the other direction as well. The gentleman, who won the Rae Bareli seat on behalf of the BJP on the two previous occasions, is now determined to find salvation in the Congress ranks. Examples of this kind of reverse movement can be easily multiplied The conclusion is glaringly obvious. Never mind the different labels they attach to themselves at a particular moment, these politicians playing the switching and reswitching game belong to the same narrow class or coterie. Merely because they change their political label, their attitude to life and living does not alter. And the less said of ideology, the better. Stray images flashed across the newspapers and the Doordarshan screen assail the memory, images of Indira Gandhi, incumbent prime minister, hopping from temple to temple and seeking blessings from the most bigoted, sectarianminded Hindu religious leaders. That she also simultaneously, frequented dargas and synagogues only compounds the confusion. Secularism should not mean treating all religious denominations alike, but keeping distance from each and all.

The rigmarole of the claim that of the two major parties, one dons the rabidly sectarian apparel while the other one does not, fails to cut much ice. Consider the overall composition of the two parties; scarcely anything distinguishes, in terms of class lineage, leaders of the one lot from those of the other. It is only outsiders who propose to either support or oppose these parties on ideological grounds who face difficulties. The possibility cannot therefore be ruled out that once the polls are over, the secularsectarian divide would come to a deadend, and furious negotiations would be on to give shape to terms and conditions for supporting a stable regime in which both groups will have equitable representation. The theory of footloosenesss can in fact be generalised

Nothing is any longer odd under the perennially gray Indian sky. A formidable secretarygeneral of a soclaimed socialist party is the least bothered about his ideological pretensions: he has a private identity, which he greatly cherishes, as a loyal servitor of one of the country’s leading industrial tycoons. And the leading lights of the parties claiming to represent the backward classes share a common concern to take care of their personal interests first.

The festival of hurling allegations of corruption against one another is tapering off for the same objective reason. The lady at 10 Janpath is certainly not unduly worried over the BJP threat to import from Switzerland the final bunch of papers relating to the Bofors bribes. The threat is altogether vacuous. For by now it is well known that, as per the verdict of the highest Swiss court, the bribe money, of which a portion has reportedly gone into the coffers of the gentleman of Verona – or is it Torino? – has been coshared with the four famous NRI brethren settled in London. These brothers are, again as everybody knows, as close to the present prime minister as the travelling salesman from Torino is to 10 Janpath.

In fact, the convergence of interests between the two major parties is an unending affair. An official committee has gone to great lengths to unravel the mystery of the huge capital erosion suffered a few years ago by the Unit Trust of India Its report has thrown quite a few hints regarding the authorship of the shenanigans.

But, given the present concatenation of the country’s superstructural politics, investigations of this nature are unlikely to go very far. Information was solicited on the floor of parliament on the identity of the parties which had benefited from huge private placements by institutions such as the UTI and the ICICI between such and such years. These placements were one principal reason for the UTI’s coming to grief in that phase. The response to the parliamentary questions was uniformly fuzzy, the authorities falling back on the plea of the supposed inviolability of the statutory provision for protecting the secrecy of the relationship between banking institutions and their clients. The free market cannot be prevented from indulging in gossip though. At least threefifths, if not more, of those private placements, stock market cognoscenti are prepared to swear, had gone to a particular family business concern entrenched in Mumbai and Gujarat. The two leading political parties in the country have a common stake in protecting this business house; both parties – and some others too – are flush with funds contributed by it.

Both major parties share identical views on economic policy issues, because their leaders come from the same social background The return of colonialism, the thinning out of government investment and privatisation of existing public sector units at a furious pace define the emerging milieu. The plot, as they say, will thicken

The trickiest problems India, along with other developing economies, will face in the next decades will involve issues of trade and traderelated foreign investment

The two principal parties in the country are committed by word and deed to go along, jointly as well as severally, with the diktat of the WTO in these matters. After all, it was the commerce minister of a Congress government who signed the Marrakesh Treaty in 1994. The BJP, because it was then in the opposition, made quite a show of declaring itself against the provisions of the Treaty. But all is well that ends well. After it entered the government in 1998, a dramatic transformation took place in the BJP’s stance

The amendment to the Indian Patents Act in order to make it conform to the Articles of Agreement of the WTO was a one hundred per cent joint operation on the part of the two national parties. It was a Congress MP, with a formidable legal reputation, who explained the amendments The BJP minister for industrial development, who had formally moved the amendments, stood up to confess that he had nothing to add to the explanations provided by the Congress luminary

Meanwhile, though, the ministry of finance has gone off in its own manner It did not worry the least whether the amending statute had been given the imprimatur of approval by parliament. Over the decades, it has been shifting its loyalty to the international financial and trading institutions which articulate the views of the superpower. According to an article enshrined in the WTO manual, developing countries have the prerogative to maintain for an indefinite period, for balance of payments reasons, quantitative restrictions on agricultural imports. It is only when the IMF is satisfied that the country’s balance of payments position has improved significantly and it so informs the WTO, that the WTO is expected to issue a directive to the country concerned to withdraw the restrictions. By convention, the IMF, before transmitting its view to the WTO, seeks the opinion of the ministry of finance of the country concerned. India’s ministry of finance is more loyal than the royals themselves; it had, on its own, informed the Fund sometime ago that the country’s balance of payments position was excellent so that the WTO could be advised to direct the government of India to let go of the quantitative restrictions on farm inputs. Not a squeak of protest has been heard in the matter from the major political parties, including those who constitute the formidable farmers’ lobby

Colonialism is passe, so is fundamentalism Talk of the lastditch battle between sectarianism and secularism being fought on Indian soil would seem to be greatly overdrawn. It is all very gentlemanly Where the situation so warrants, the sectarians will quote approvingly the sweet reasonableness of an Atal Behari Vajpayee muffling the war drums of the VHPRSS rabble. Similarly, in due season, the Congress Party will not flinch from exhibiting film clips of a devoutly demure Indira Gandhi and her barebodied elder son, both lying prostrate and receiving benediction from semiclad Hindu sadhus.

It is only those specially belonging to the Left, anxious to stress a sharp ideological cleavage in the behaviour pattern of the two principal political parties, who are having a trying time. Since the facts do not match, they have begun to cross over to democratic decentralism. The Central Committee resolution on electoral strategy is being interpreted differently by different state units to suit their local compulsions. Apart from the Sharad Pawar coup which took them unawares, what additionally worries sections of the Left is the prospect of a substantial segment of MPs elected on the Congress ticket breaking away from the party to join even the BJP and share the loaves and fishes of office. Some of these postmodern converts to the communalsectarian cause are unlikely to experience any qualms of conscience. Where opportunity fails, opportunism could beckon, and why be excessively moralistic about it? True, some of the elements the BJP has gathered under its umbrella are pretty poor examples of the human species; they might well turn out to be the greatest menace to national integrity. It is nonetheless the other sensation that brims over: haven’t we given a bloody nose to the Pakistanis? Those denigrating the scale of our victory at Kargil are prima facie agents of the InterServices Intelligence, lock them up, and rough them up too. There appears to be little awareness that the joint secularsectarian enthusiasm to discover ISI agents in every bush could provoke a major confrontation with Bangladesh. Hopefully the superpower will then, once more, bail us out

The colonial order is back with a bang


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