Indian Politics : A theatre of the absurd

Yoginder Kandhari
Whatever is panning out in the political context currently is nothing new. In the 1967 Haryana Assembly elections, Gaya Lal won as an independent candidate. Within nine hours of win, he party-hopped thrice- Congress to United Front and back to Congress. During a press conference, witty Rao Birender Singh said the famous line “Aya Ram ab Gay Ram hai’- a label that now sticks to all such turncoats. Never outdone in political antics, Bhajan Lal, having been sworn in as Janta Dal CM in Haryana in 1979, manipulated the loyalty of his entire cabinet to take a fresh oath as the Congress CM. Thus began an era of brazen political opportunism that continues to date. Mercifully, party-switching is not an India-specific phenomenon. It happens worldwide; in New Zealand, they call it Waka-jumping.
After Bengal, UP is now witnessing presumptuous mass migration of the people’s representatives from the ruling outfit to the party in the political ‘lead’ there. Ironically, the BJP is reaping the whirlwind for the wind they sowed in 2017. Closer home, some long-standing Congress and National Conference stalwarts recently cast aside their ideological pretensions for greener pastures elsewhere. The politicians have perfected self-aggrandisement into an art form. Unfortunately, the gullible voters compose a cheer -symphony orchestrated by political proxies.
Indian also witnessed some hilarious midnight political chicanery. In Panjim, BJP pulled the rug from under the confused Congress’ feet. In Mumbai, the Governor swore in the BJP CM and NCP Dy CM in the wee hours even before cocks crew the morn. No sooner were Ajit Pawar’s corruption cases closed than the willy Sharad Pawar tied up with Shiv Sena to upset the BJP applecart, leaving Devendra Fernadvis to sulk.
Interestingly, it is not uncommon for Indian politicians to worship skulls and offer animal sacrifices before standing for elections. William Dalrymple, in ‘Nine Lives’ -his book exploring traditional religious practices in India- tells us how some politicians considered ‘Tantra much more powerful than conventional religion.” Even communist MPs, who publicly profess atheism, did not hesitate to offer goat sacrifices to ensure an electoral win. The belief of the Tantric remains all-pervasive.
Some of our prime ministers have followed the same path. Pupul Jayakar, Indira’s biographer, says Indira performed Lakshachandi Path to protect her son, Sanjay, after the Emergency and continued to do that after his death to keep the ‘evil eye’ at bay. However, such invocations then were tucked away from the public gaze.
That the top politicians in the 1990s believed in the occult of godmen is common knowledge. Dhirendra Brahmachari and Chandraswami wielded enough influence over prime ministers then. Swami used his status as an ’eminence grise’ to serve as an intermediary in all kinds of affairs, including business transactions between Indian politicians and Adnan Khashoggi, Sultan of Brunei and the like.
Punjab and Haryana elections bring in another vigorous political activity. Leaders of all parties make a beeline to numerous Deras that dot the landscape of the two states. More than ten thousand Deras exist in Punjab alone; three hundred have the clout to influence the voters’ choice. Deras can impact the outcome in 47 constituencies. For every appeal to vote for a party, Deras extort favours after the party comes to power. This political expediency had bitter consequences that cost widespread vandalism and many lives. Yet, the political obeisance to the Deras must continue. It is the electoral victory that matters, not the consequences.
Rather than analysing the security breach during Prime Minister Modi’s recent Punjab visit, ‘Jaap’ politics made a mockery of a serious issue. While everyone is entitled to his religious faith and beliefs, it beckons a quiet observance to wade off an evil than make a public spectacle of political loyalty. Irrespective of political affiliation, no Indian would wish any physical harm to the PM. In that light, the whole effort was overdone- a la Devkant Barua.
The calmness of Marget Thatcher in the face of the 1984 IRA bombing of the hotel she was staying in typifies a courageous leader. Rather than abandoning the Conservative Party Convention, she addressed the assembly the next day. Exhibiting sagacity to expunge portions critical of the Labour Party from her speech, Marget realised that saving democracy then was a priority over Labour-bashing. On the contrary, our PM and his cheerleaders used the recent security-related episode to mount a political assault on the CM and the Congress party in poll-bound Punjab.
In India’s post-independence history, there were instances when prime ministers showed initiative and calmness in adversity. In the aftermath of the bloody partition of the Indian subcontinent, Nehru once broke a security ring around him to discipline a murderous mob in the heart of the Capital. Indira Gandhi refused to leave an election rally in 1967 despite being hit on the face. Recollect how composed Morarji Desai remained after a near-fatal air crash in 1977. Then the public was not fed any conspiracy theories.
The BJP has stretched the politics over the Punjab fiasco to ridiculous limits. Six BJP CMs accused Congress of planning a conspiracy. Some among them saw a Khalistani hand, while one even demanded the arrest of the Punjab CM. With the Supreme Court stepping in and admonishing the warring Centre and Punjab Governments, the political slugfest seems to have ebbed.
It is time the ruling class picks up the essence of a time-honoured dictum – to conquer, emperor mounts a horse; to govern, he must dismount.