Sunday, 12 September 1999

Jhatka is Better than Halal, Gujral Ji

(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999)

Mid-November, and the Lok Sabha session has begun. BJP, Shiv
Sena and Samata party members flock to the well of the House,
waved there by their leaders, and soon begin hurling projectiles
at the Congress and UF members, In a trice, led by defence
minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, those attacked fight back.
Projectiles careen through the air, screams of the injured rise
above the din, and pools of blood form everywhere.

Soon the BJP members and their allies leave for Rashtrapati
Bhavan, there to demand the dissolution of the Lok Sabha on the
Romesh Bhandari model. In a Mulayam-Kanshi style of
inattention to constitutional niceties, they threaten that Parliament
will not be allowed to function until fresh elections are announced
under a care-taker government comprising members of all major

Had the Congress party, led by Sitaram and Sonia, succeeded
in getting the Kalyan Singh ministry dismissed on the grounds
of the very violence instigated by it, this could have been what
the nation would have witnessed in a few weeks time. In
between, the cities of India would have been in chaos as the
BJP - barred from democratic forums by its opponents - would
have taken to the streets to hit back. All efforts by finance
minister Chidambaram at economic stabilisation would have
dissolved in the face of the Parliamentary deadlock.

Those who are today venting their anger at the correct
decision of the Gujral government to retreat from its earlier
impulsive decision to impose President's Rule in UP should ask
themselves whether they would approve of the dissolution of the
Lok Sabha after violence generated by Opposition members. For
that would be a mirror analogy of Tuesday's developments in
the UP assembly.

Revolutionaries such as Kanshi Ram or Sitaram Yechury
may not regard laws as worth upholding. For them what counts
is victory, no matter at what cost. Thus a Yechury who would
(one presumes) oppose the removal of the Basu government in
Bengal because goons often beat up Congress workers, is unhappy
at the reprieve given to Kalyan Singh. Likewise, while he
approves of the feverish attempts by Jyoti Basu to bring foreign
investment into India, he is against any other state adopting a
similar policy.

As for Mulayam Singh Yadav, for him the only constitution
that needs attention appears to be his own. One cannot blame
these worthies. During the decades of Nehru family rule,
institutions got drained of substance and personalised decisions
became the norm. Sitaram Kesri, looking over his shoulder at
Sonia Gandhi, is only trying to live down to such a legacy.

Self, then, becomes more important than country. If Deve
Gowda does not show Kesri "proper" respect, he must go. Now
that Inder Kumar Gujral has followed President Narayanan's
lead and upheld the Constitution, he should be destabilised.
Should the Congress Working Committee once again threaten
withdrawal of support, it is in danger of becoming as popular in
the rest of India as it has become in UP and Bihar. Economic
factors dictate that the present government should run for at
least three years. They dictate that the “dream budget" of
Chidambaram I should be followed by Chidambaram II and
Chidambaram III.

If Prime Minister Gujral draws the correct conclusions from
this crisis, and realises that compromise breeds instability, not
firmness, it may prove a blessing to the United Front. Should he
be more decisive, then yes, there is the chance of a sudden jhatka
as those angered by this may combine and strike. But that would
be preferable to the slow halal that is draining away the good
name he has accumulated over decades.

Indeed, the odds are the popularity he will get as a result of
sensible policies firmly pursued may shield him from the chop.
More than places of worship or divisive appeals to caste, region
and community, what will work wonders on the electorate is
economic progress. Unless bold steps are taken on infrastructure
and on freeing the economy from the colonial system of over·
regulation, the 9 per cent rate of growth that is needed for
political triumph will not come. Narasimha Rao made huge
fiscal compromises in his final two years. They did not save his
party. On the other hand, bold steps—as he took during his first
two years in office—may have worked.

Rather than be seen as perpetually at the mercy of others, 
I. K. Gujral needs to become his own man, and go about his duties
with a resignation letter in his pocket. That is the best way of
ensuring that it may never be needed.

In his first interview after becoming PM—incidentally to the
present writer—the Prime Minister had spoken of clearing away
the colonial cobwebs that constrain activity and enterprise in
India. So far those have remained just words. Hopefully he will
take heart from President Narayanan’s courage and follow the
Rashtrapati's example of boldly doing what is right, no matter
what the self-seekers say.

Strong action on Bofors, a drive against the mafiosi that .
dominate Mumbai and are now spreading their tentacles to
Bangalore, effective laws and enforcement against the drug
trade, open development of the nuclear deterrent: these are a few
of the measures which alone will give Gujral’s combination a
chance against the BJP.

Apart from the residual mistrust of the minorities towards it,
there is nothing to fault the B]P. Apart from its minority-friendly
image, there is sadly not much that is positive about the
"secular" coalition. And what of Sonia and Sitaram? Put India
before Ego, if you can, and before voters pounce on your party
and demolish it totally. A democratic Congress has the chance
of emerging as one of the poles in a two·party system. A dynastic
or autocratic Congress, never.

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