History repeats itself, first as tragedy then as farce, but in Indian politics, the farce plays out so frequently that the tragic element is obscured. Four recent instances highlight just how the disease of immoral politics is now a contagion that has spread across the political class. No party is immune to its depravity.
Let’s start with the BJP, now the country’s premier national party. Just look at the manner in which the party has sought to derive political capital from the alleged “exodus” of Hindu families from Kairana in western Uttar Pradesh. Its local MP first claims that Hindu villagers are being targeted by “Muslim gangs” and provides a list of families who have left their homes out of fear in the last year. When it transpires that the list contains names of people who have left for reasons like jobs, health and education several years ago, when a number of those named are still found in their homes or, in some instances, are dead, the MP backtracks to say the problem is one of law and order and should not be seen in communal terms.
This doesn’t stop the BJP leadership though, including party president Amit Shah, from suggesting that Hindus are under siege in the region. The BJP sends a fact-finding team to the area even as the party’s hyper-active social media cell targets the mainstream media as “anti-Hindu” for not highlighting the issue more aggressively. Now, it is true that in the aftermath of the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots there has been a worrying communal polarisation on the ground in western UP.
And yet, when Muslim families were forced into refugee camps, no BJP fact-finding team focussed on their plight. But with elections in UP just months away, it seems that the party has decided to play the “Hindu card” once again. What other rational explanation can there be for the issue to assume a dangerous communal dimension only in the last fortnight? Sadly, the prime minister, despite his “sabka saath sabka vikas” sloganeering, has chosen to stay conspicuously silent once again.
Switch now to the Congress, which claims to be the flag-bearer of secular politics in India. Just ahead of a crucial election in Punjab, the party decides to appoint Kamal Nath as its general secretary in charge of the state. Sikh groups protest, claiming that Nath is scorched by the ashes of the 1984 riots. Rattled by the backlash, an embarrassed Congress is forced to get Nath to rather ignominiously withdraw from the post. Even by the party’s recent history of self-goals, surely this is one which they could have avoided. Nath is an astute political strategist who could be sent to several other states, why only Punjab?
The Congress and Nath have argued that no 1984 riots commission of inquiry has indicted him and there is no formal case against him in any court. True, but what about the court of public perception? In the minds of many Sikhs, Nath’s role on the streets of Delhi along with several other Congress leaders has never been fully explained or investigated. There has never been a sense of urgency or commitment shown to ensure justice for the victims. The problem is that the Congress’ vision of secularism has often taken the minorities for granted: Its failure to fully come to terms with the party’s role in the 1984 riots in particular remains a permanent blot.
Let’s now turn to AAP which burst onto the political scene with its anti-corruption agenda and a promise of being a “party with a difference”. Twenty-one of its legislators now stand in danger of being disqualified under the office of profit rule after being appointed parliamentary secretaries. AAP claims it is being victimised and that other state and central governments have got away with retrospective legislation to insulate their members from office of profit provisions. But surely a party that stands on the pulpit of lofty idealism doesn’t want to be judged by the standards that other parties have set. Moreover, even if there are no financial benefits gained from being a parliamentary secretary (AAP has quite bizarrely described them as ‘interns’) should it be done in such flagrant violation of the Constitution only to provide members with a taste of power?
Finally, there is the shame of the Rajya Sabha elections where it is increasingly apparent that nominations to the house of elders have been reduced to a cash and carry exercise for some. How else does one explain the sting operation in Karnataka where JD(S) MLAs are nonchalantly asking for `5 crore for a vote? Or the open cross-voting in many other states? A similar sting operation during a poll in Jharkhand a few years ago had exposed the rot on camera and the poll was countermanded. Yet, it appears that there is no fear of the law among our law-makers.
Indeed, such is the prevailing political culture that every party would prefer to brazen it out rather than accept culpability. Will the ominous fallout on community relations in a Kairana stop the BJP from practising the politics of religious division in the UP elections? Will the Congress accept its past mistakes like 1984 and vow to remove the hollowness from its secular balloon? Will AAP abandon its politics of confrontation for a more meaningful agenda of governance? And will ‘suitcase‘ deal-making ever leave our electoral landscape?
As journalists, we can only continue to raise the uncomfortable questions. Our political class can, of course, continue to evade the questions: When lust for power fails to differentiate between means and ends, then any form of public accountability is the first casualty. Till the next farce then, we the people can only stand and despair.
Post-script: One is often asked, why don’t good people enter politics which is, after all, considered the highest form of public service? I think the last fortnight tells us why so many are unwilling to dip their toes in the muck. Cleaning it up will take a very long time.
Rajdeep Sardesai is a senior journalist and an author
The views expressed are personal