B L Saraf
To start with, a two point caveat. 1 Ghosts are real if Mythology is real: 2 there have been men and women in the Indian political landscape who played game according to the rules. The breed, however, became extinct with the expiration of First Five Year Plan. Their eclipse from the political scenes saw remaining of the lot invest in the ‘ ghost ‘ inventing enterprise to remain afloat. An illusion is created where, but for the presence of a ‘deemed demon’, everything would be rosy for the mortals. It shouldn’t be surprising. Henry Brooks Adams said long back “Politics as a practice, whatever its profession, has been the systematic organization of hatreds .” Therefore, best way to generate hatred for an opponent is to make a “ghost “of him.
Barring exceptional but brief interludes, the story of Indian politics since independence has been a tale of ‘ghosts’ – some real but mostly imaginary – invented, primarily, by the ruling class to scare away people from the opponents and avoid awkward questions being asked . Thanks to a crafty politician the business is flourishing well. ” Reactionary “, ” C I A Agent “, “Foreign Hand ” and the ” Anti national” are various breeds of a ” ghost ” which have indelibly entered the nation’s political lexicon and, depending upon the mood of times, are effectively used by the politicians . In-between minor demons like “secular” and “pseudo secular” too make the rounds .
In the initial years of his rule, Jawaharlal Nehru played a copy book political game .That was the period when he laid down firm foundations of modern, democratic and an emancipated India, worth living for any soul. However, with the passage of time and having rather a longish stint at the helm he started showing signs of political fatigue. His persona and politics exhibited a jaded look and sheen began to peel off . Some of his decisions on economy and foreign policy matters raised serious questions, while as a couple of them came to haunt him in the latter part of his life. Being a true practitioner of art of the politics, Nehru never wanted to give in to his political opponents so easily, no matter how sincere they were in questioning him and his politics. Thus started a ‘ ghost’ inventing venture.
In the latter years of his rule Jawaharlal Nehru felt insecure by the range of questions that his economic and some foreign policy decisions gave rise to which opponents began to ask. He then looked around and came up with pet catch words like ‘ Democratic Socialism” and ” Progressives ” to hurl at his adversaries and save his turf. Any one daring to challenge him and his pets was dubbed as a ” Reactionary “. ‘Ghost ‘ had overtaken an inquisitive opponent.
Daughter, Indira Gandhi proved to be a deft practitioner of the art. After a shaky start at the helm, she found her feet and eased out the very persons who brought her to the throne. Appearance of Bangladesh on the world map – whose birth owed a lot to her- made Mrs Gandhi walk and talk a Queen. Sycophants like late Devkant Burva equated her with the country and coined a flattering slogan “Indira is India and India is Indira “. That went to her head so much that she couldn’t bear even a mild criticism of her manner of working and policies . But when sheen started to wear off and realty coming to the face, Indira Gandhi created a monster in the shape of CIA- American Intelligence Agency -to beat her critics. Anyone opposing her was a “CIA agent “bent upon to destabilize India. She and her party managers stretched the reach of ‘ghost ‘to such a ridiculous lengths that one day the irrepressible Piloo Modi (then Swatantra Party member in the Lok-Sabha) entered the House wearing badge ” I am CIA agent “, so boldly on his chest as to spread a mocking impression of the Madam Gandhi’s’ ‘ enterprise ‘.
Rajiv Gandhi reared “Foreign Hand ” as the ‘ghost ‘ and let loose it on any one who questioned his questionable defense deals and excessive holidaying with his friends – here and abroad .
Today, the “Anti-national” ghost roams freely to haunt those who dare question a decision taken by the incumbent Government. One turns ‘ anti national ‘ the moment he opposes a decision taken by the central establishment. The ‘Ghost ‘ is unleashed with such ferocity that the one invented by Indira Gandhi looks a toothless creature. Never mind the ‘antinational ghost ‘ and the ‘nationalist ‘ are interchangeable. One becomes nationalist soon he sides with the establishment and vice -versa. Once, the hyper ‘nationalist Shiv Sena is today in the ‘anti nationalist camp. TDP has been changing ‘ color ‘at regular intervals
It is a travesty when people say that attention is being weaned away from maters of bread and butter, women safety and environmental degradation and ask for fixing priorities right they are shouted down as the ‘ antinational .’ Given the speed at which the tribe of “Antinational ” is made to grow in the country, it is easy to visualize, had the indomitable Modi (Piloo ) been around today he would one day come to the Parliament and amuse other Modi ( Narendra ) wearing a chest badge ” I am the Antinational .”
Without detracting from a politician’s right to challenge his opponent on genuine political grounds, it has to be said that every political party is a share holder in ghost creating venture. With variation in the names, aims and objects of the enterprise are identical . Therefore, we the small mortals are destined to consume the version they give but it is not for us to navigate the narrative to make a choice. Choice for what? After all the version (ghost) is only a deflection. Mercifully, there is a redeeming prospect: political ghosts are as fictional as mythology is deemed to be. We need not be scared of them.
(The author is former Principal District & Sessions Judge)
B L Saraf