Saturday 7 August 1999

Below 150, Sonia finis. Below 200, Vajpayee falls again (Rediff)

Below 150, Sonia finis. Below 200, Vajpayee falls again 

India is the land of the Sorcars -- those masters of magic -- and it is therefore no surprise that there is usually a huge gap between the two. Take the case of two BJP ministers, Jaswant Singh and Yashwant Sinha. While one is widely perceived to be a success, the other mediocre. Under Singh, who has apparently been content to follow the Prime Minister's Office's directions on foreign policy, India has substantially diluted its stand on Kashmir and the nuclear issue, in exchange for words of praise from the US and the EU.

Both Jaswant and the real master of the MEA, Brajesh Mishra, preen at every certificate issued by Washington, London and other capitals, in the manner of schoolboys getting a pat on the head from the schoolmaster. No cost-benefit has been done of the substantive impact of such "gains" on the 970 million citizens of India, the only gauge that counts.

Yes, there has been much patting on the head. However, the prohibition on World Bank and other multilateral loans to India remains in effect, even while Pakistan is busy negotiating fresh tranches of assistance on very soft terms. Both the US and its primary satellite, the UK, have complimented Nawaz Sharief essentially for bowing to the inevitable. The Great Jihadi had no option but to clutch at the face-saver provided by his army. Thanks to the Washington summit, both India and the US have lost.

The jihadi forces in Pakistan now believe that a victorious army was made to reverse course under pressure. Had it been conclusively demonstrated that Musharraf's men had been whipped, the affection for them in the populace may have declined, thus making it easier to cut the defence budget to levels that can save Pakistan from economic collapse. More people would have realised the futility of fighting a neighbour that -- despite its politicians -- is getting more powerful by the day. Instead, the illusion that the druggie-kookies can take on the professional and multicultural Indian forces is still alive, courtesy Clinton.

The US too has lost by its obsessive desire to insinuate itself into any conflict. More people in Pakistan now believe in the "stab in the back" theory that holds that Kashmir would have been Pakistan's by now but for the Jehadi prime minister knuckling under pressure and pulling back forces who were (according to this view, one heavily propagated in Pakistan's Urdu press) scattering the racially-inferior Indians. This lends further impetus to the already existing tendency in kook circles in Pakistan to target the US as an enemy as horrible as India, and to the purchase of tickets to New York and Chicago to bomb and kill in retaliation for the Clinton-Sharief agreement.

Indeed, a parallel can be drawn with 1917 Germany, where too the armistice (that the German army's comprehensive defeat made inevitable) was passed off by the kooks there as a fraud perpetrated on a winning army by mainly-Jewish politicians. This canard spawned the most evil individual to have been born in the 19th century, Adolf Hitler. Today, the Kargil lie created through Bubba's impulsive intervention will create individuals who in time will pose significant security challenges to the US.

Poor Bubba. It must have been on Madeleine Albright's advice that he accepted the Jehadi's plea to be received on July 4. Albright's appointment is clearly one of the decisions taken by Clinton in those historic moments when Monica Lewinsky was inside the White House. There can be no other explanation for the appointment of an individual so intellectually challenged to a post that is so critical to the future of US interests. The only prominent individual who makes Albright look normal in comparison is Sonia Gandhi, who needs notes even to know when to wave and how to walk.

The venerable president of the Congress should not be faulted for wanting to be prime minister, as ambition is not a crime. Should her party get 200-plus seats, it will be almost a formality that Sonia will get sworn in as the next European from the Nehru family to rule India after Jawahar, Indu and Rajiv. If these three could not destroy India, neither can the bahu who believes a wedding certificate can substitute for any proof of competence or capability.

In case the charms of Sonia-Rahul-Priyanka do not work, and the Congress tally falls significantly below 150, the worst-affected will be the BJP. A weakened Congress will be instantly more attractive to the converts from secularism now within the BJP fold. Within a year of a new Vajpayee government getting sworn in, these elements can be expected to make common cause with Congress leaders, egging them on to dump Sonia and thus fulfil the precondition for a Grand Alliance of the "secular" brigade.

The moves by George Fernandes and Ramakrishna Hegde -- dear friends of many present Congress leaders -- give an indication of this alignment. Unless the BJP crosses 200 seats, its life in government is likely to be as short as the tenure of the 1998 Vajpayee regime. Thus, it is crucial for the BJP not only that it do better than in the previous election, but that Sonia does not collapse as a vote-getter. The best insurance for the longevity of a new Vajpayee regime will be the continuance of Sonia Gandhi as the dictator of the Congress.

But we are digressing from our comparison of Jaswant and Yashwant. The ground reality is that the first has been a disaster, while the second has been an outstanding success.

Despite an unfortunate habit of trying to raise tax rates (as distinct from taxes), and continuously being a prophet of doom rather than of boom, the Union finance minister has done a remarkable job in managing the economy. It is no accident that in the Prime Minister's Office, foreign policy is monopolised by Brajesh Mishra, who leaves economic issues to be tackled by N K Singh.

Had the principal secretary been involved in economic policy, there is little doubt that India would have gone the way of Brazil under Delfim Netto, when each policy was hailed by Washington but led to disaster for the Brazilian people. Finally, the army dictators had to remove the finance minister to stop further riots and economic collapse.

Brajesh Mishra's appointment as his deputy has been the root of most of Vajpayee's political problems, including the break with Jayalalitha that led to his Lok Sabha defeat five months ago.

Unlike the case of the Samata or the Akali ministers, who got away with whatever they wanted, Mishra torpedoed most of the decisions of the AIADMK crew, even as he leaned on Vazhapaddi Ramamurthy or even Ananth Kumar in the case of any decision not previously cleared by Pramod Mahajan.

Mishra made a clear North-South distinction, interfering not at all with the north-based regional parties, but acting the overlord in the case of the southern ones, even the Lok Shakti, where Ramakrishna Hegde has had to struggle hard to have his way in a manner not a problem for the Samata-Akali lot.

If I K Gujral looked only to those born in Pakistan to fill vacancies, Vajpayee seems reluctant to cross the Vindhyas. This is going to create tensions should there be a second round. This time, ministers unfortunate enough to have southern bases are unlikely to accept the hectoring of the principal secretary, who is meek as a lamp before the Samata and the Akali crew.

This writer believes the US is a friend because it is a fellow democracy, and that in time relations between New Delhi and Washington will become very close. However, this does not mean that all the prescriptions of US bureaucrats on Indian foreign, security and economic issues are correct. The "loyalty test" that US bureaucrats inflict on their South Asian intermediaries is to uncritically accept all their nostrums, upon pain of being called a Cold War relic and anti-American to boot.

Like millions of Americans, this writer believes that Clinton is often wrong, especially on policy towards South Asia. This does not dilute the writer's belief that, after India, the US is the best country in the world. Or that India needs to adopt much more of the feisty, transparent style of US legislatures, as well as the ruthless manner in which security interests get defended by Washington.

Looking at the way even big parties get dominated by a single individual or clique, it is to India's advantage that the next Lok Sabha too be a melange of parties. That will prevent a Sonia or a Brajesh autocracy, and hopefully in the process further extend the range of freedoms enjoyed by a people colonised for most of the dying millennium.

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