Wednesday, September 23, 2009

THE PRESIDENT'S BLACKMAIL

Let me say what the media cannot, for obvious reasons: The President of India has "blackmailed" the Congress party.

Only those living on another planet will argue that Rajendra Shekhawat, son of President Pratibha Devisingh Patil, could have literally arm twisted the Congress into giving him a ticket to contest in the forthcoming Assembly elections in Maharashtra without his mother's full backing. Both know well that she will not be President when the elections are held next: it was now or never for them to claim Amravati as the President's family jagir. The amount of pressure that must have been brought to bear upon the Congress is evident from the fact that Shekhawat has displaced minister for finance and energy Sunil Deshmukh who has won four elections from this constituency.

When the constitutional head of a country displays such impropriety, to put it mildly, it is no less than a big nail in the coffin of its system of governance. Unfortunately, such nails are being driven almost every day with a disturbing nonchalance that must shock every right thinking Indian.

But why blame Pratibha Patil? She is what she is and everyone knew that before she was picked for the top job personally by Sonia Gandhi.

The real question is: why was a person who seemed to be mired in scams and having a history of allegations of financial impropriety and nepotism, picked in the first place? And that too over the likes of APJ Abdul Kalam? There are many who say that the Congress was not looking for a President at all; a pliable and partisan rubber stamp is all that it wanted, no matter how tainted or unfit for the nation's top job. The same thing happened in the case of the Chief Election Commissioner; the Congress chose Naveen Chawla despite very serious charges of corruption and partisanship that were levelled against against him ever since he was made Election Commissioner.

This development also raises the larger question about where India's democracy is headed, and whether we should call it a democracy at all any longer? The reins of the nation are passing into the hands of a few hundred political gharanas who are taking the place of the princely families that ruled India for centuries. That is what has already happened in Pakistan with disastrous results.

Why have things come to the stage where even the President is compelled to throw all constitutional propriety and morality out of the large windows of Rashtrapati Bhawan to ensure dynastic succession? It is because politics has become the best vehicle to acquire untold riches and power quickly. With so much available for the asking so easily, no questions asked, once someone makes it big, he has no choice but to ensure that his family continues to enjoy that for generations to come.

In an earlier post, I had argue that the proposal to reserve 33% seats for women in Parliament will not empower women at all; it will only make political gharanas even more powerful and restrict the pie of political power and pelf to very few political families, and make a total mockery of democracy. What the President has done should leave no doubt in any one's mind any more.

Is there any hope that things will get better?

Long ago, it seems, the BJP emerged as a vibrant alternative to the Congress. People may say it was because of aggressive 'Hindutva'. While that may have helped the party to quickly increase its footprint in the country, I think many more people were attracted to it because of two USPs that set it apart from the Congress. One was that there was no dynasty in the party and the second was that its leaders were seen as honest and effective.

Let us not forget that at one time there was a very strong anti-Gandhi family undercurrent in this country. Many people deeply resented the manner in which that dynasty had turned the party of Mahatma Gandhi into its personal jagir. Similarly, there were many Indians who despised the total absence of honesty in most leaders of that party.

The BJP was the first national alternative that promised a real change along both these dimensions. Unfortunately the party is now no longer distinguishable from the Congress. Two successive defeats should have taught the BJP the right lessons but they haven't. Greed has claimed it too. In the bargain, the party has most foolishly shot itself in the foot and helped the Congress legitimise and perpetuate the dynastic rule and unbridled corruption that define it, and that Indians once wanted to rid themselves of, but have now accepted with resignation.

That is why even the President has been emboldened to virtually extort her share of the dynastic pie in India's political landscape. She knows only too well that there is no leader or party now that can claim a moral high ground and tear her apart, much less offer the alternative that this country desperately needs.

When ordinary citizens start justifying what the President has done by saying that even wives of criminals locked in jail are given tickets, you get the sinking feeling that the erosion of the nation's values is now almost complete. India is inexorably sliding into an abyss of corruption and public immorality from which it cannot emerge unscathed. Management guru CK Prahalad is right: India will have to face a volcano. Sooner or later.