Sunday 2 February 2014

India does not need another V.P. Singh (Sunday Times)


V.P. Singh
lthough the Aam Aadmi Party has often descended into burlesque while luxuriating in the afterglow of ex-Income-Tax assistant commissioner Arvind Kejriwal getting transformed into the Honourable Chief Minister of Delhi, overall the citizens of this country have much to be grateful about in its rise. Most importantly, it has shown that — with a little help from the media — it is possible to fight and win elections on a significant scale, even if unable to access the huge pools of cash that major political parties in India possess. That voters have a better choice than choosing between a candidate who has made Rs 500 crore in unaccounted assets and another who is a relative pauper at Rs 100 crore of tax-dodging money. That the Indian middle class, now at 300 million strong, or just about equal to the number of utter destitute that this country still houses after close to seven decades of "freedom", has finally realised that it can have a voice that is sometimes the deciding factor in elections, and that there is no more need to sit at home and glumly watch television as one crooked candidate after the other notches up large margins of victory. Whatever one might say about Yogendra Yadav, Prashant Bhushan, Captain Gopinath, Meera Sanyal or others prominent in the AAP, it is not that they entered politics because their parents discovered that they were unfit to hold any other job.
Should the AAP tally in the Lok Sabha polls fall below 20, which is the estimate of this columnist, it is unlikely to make a game-changing difference in the ensuing elections. However, should it nudge close to 50, the chances are that such a spurt would keep the Bharatiya Janta Party's tally to well below the psychological level of 220 needed for an effective Narendra Modi-led government. Should his associates in the highest echelon of the BJP concur, Modi can become the PM even if his party gets 180 seats, given the bandwagon effect on smaller parties eager to hop onto the gravy-laden power train. However, in such a situation, he will be as hobbled as Team Vajpayee was in 1998. Of course, in 1999, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee continued governing the country as though he were still only a short distance away from disaster, and the resulting loss of momentum caused the decline in both cadre as well as public confidence which saw the UPA defeat the NDA in 2004. The 2009 BJP was the same as the 2004 mix, and suffered the same fate. But for a new prime ministerial candidate, the 2014 BJP is identical to the 2009 party, with the same faces holding the same responsibilities as then. Any number of thundering speeches by Narendra Modi in the company of Lata Mangeshkar and other 1960s' faces will not wipe away consciousness of this fact in the minds of most of the voters, especially if the same candidates of 2004 and 2009 get fielded this time around as well.
V.P. Singh was even more passionate about expressing his desire to rid the country of the demon of corruption than Arvind Kejriwal.
Previously, during 1987-89, the big brown hope of India was Vishwanath Pratap Singh. The Raja of Manda was even more passionate about expressing his desire to rid the country of the demon of corruption than Arvind Kejriwal (who does not seem to have unearthed a single corrupt officer in the bloated Delhi administration after nearly six weeks in office). Who can forget Singh's promise that he would "get the guilty of Bofors" within a few weeks of assuming office? Instead, his closest associate in the government was Arun Nehru, whose name has often been whispered in connection with backchannel negotiations on the Bofors deal, and who was certainly no outsider when it came to Team Rajiv. Indeed, it was Arun Nehru, who by 1983 had managed to drive away the earlier members of Team Rajiv, replacing them with party hacks. After having a significant share in the transformation of Rajiv Gandhi from idealistic outsider to compromising insider, Arun Nehru's next victory was over V.P. Singh, who failed while in office to bring to book any of the culprits of Bofors he had been talking about on the campaign trail.
The question is: Who will be the next Rajiv Gandhi, and will there be another Arun Nehru by his side? Will those guilty of the horrendous scams of at least the past 20 years be punished (they have, most of them, already been identified), or will they escape, the way V.P. Singh (and indeed, P.V. Narasimha Rao and A.B. Vajpayee) allowed the guilty of Bofors to escape? This time around, the country will not allow such an abdication of accountability. Even if the AAP does nothing other than talk, which seems to be the case at present, its very emergence has shown that civil society in India is no longer in the mood for excuses. The next Prime Minister had better deliver justice to this country's major league scamsters, for his or her own sake.

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