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Will a shadow cabinet help the crumbling BJP?

Though no admirer of community-based parties like the BJP, Muslim League and the Akalis, I believe a healthy democracy needs both — right-of-centre as well as socialists for proper functioning, writes Khushwant Singh.

columns Updated: Jul 25, 2010 01:52 IST

Some weeks ago I wrote in this very column a piece entitled ‘Bhajpa’s swabhiman’ saying that when Mohan Bhagwat, head of the RSS, asked Nitin Gadkari who had proved his worth as a minister in the government of Maharashtra to take over as president of the BJP, he specifically directed him to replace old leaders like LK Advani and the caucus based in Delhi by younger blood and infuse new life in the party.

Gadkari has failed to do so. Advani still holds the centre stage. The so-called Delhi caucus remains intact. There is no sign of fresh blood. His latest gaffe calling Afzal Guru ‘the son-in-law of the Congress’ because of his delayed execution after the conviction for his role in the Parliament attack in which many lives were lost was in bad taste and earned rebuke. After all, the hopes he roused of reviving the BJP, he turned out to be an inflated gasbag.

Though no admirer of community-based parties like the BJP, Muslim League and the Akalis, I believe a healthy democracy needs both — right-of-centre as well as socialists for proper functioning. Since the BJP is the largest single party in the Opposition, it should have formed a shadow cabinet whose personnel should be known to the people.

In the last election LK Advani announced himself as the prime-minister-in-waiting. BJP has many able men and women with experience of administration such as Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha, Arun Jaitley, Arun Shourie, Vijayaraje Scindia, Maneka Gandhi, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Dhumal and others. It will have a problem finding Muslims who command respect in their community. They have a Sikh — Navjot Singh Sidhu — if he manages to win the next election. They must not include anyone tainted with the unpardonable crime of demolishing the Babri Masjid.

Besides forming a shadow cabinet it must do more than indulge in nit-picking criticism of the government’s shortcomings and come out with shortcut policies it will pursue if voted to power. One thing uppermost in my mind to which the present government has paid little attention to is the failure to curb the exploding growth of population. We simply cannot produce enough to feed the rapidly increasing mouths, and seem to be heading towards disaster. Coercive methods will have to be introduced: disenfranchise all couples who have more than two children, disqualify them from voting in panchayats, state and Parliamentary elections, bar them in government jobs upto holding gubernatorial posts. I would be glad to act as a consultant whenever they decide I’m worth consulting.

All Rounder

My six years as Rajya Sabha member coincided with the darkest period of Sikh history: Bhindranwale, Operation Blue Star, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination and massacre of the Sikhs. Though a Congress nominee, I took it upon myself to air the feelings of the common Sikhs. I was sharply critical of Bhindranwale and had no sympathy with the Akali politics. I spoke my mind and became the target of verbal attacks in the Rajya Sabha.

My main adversaries were Vishvjit Singh, a descendant of Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, founder of Kapurthala state, and Prithvijit Singh. We kept going for each other in the House but met outside for gossip sessions. Vishvjit Singh was given a second term as MP. I failed to find my buyers. Our meetings became rare. I did not see him for many years. Suddenly one evening he dropped in at my drink time. He had brought a book entitled Kuch Shabd Kuch Lakeerein (Yatra Books). I didn’t know he knew Hindi. He explained, “I was born in Jalandhar but brought up in Sitapur by my naani (maternal grandmother).” I protested, “I can’t read Hindi”. He handed me a disc. I protested again, “I don’t have the gadget to play it.” “Never mind, I’ll read out a couple of poems to you.” He read. It reminded me of my most widely published short story of my paternal grandmother (daadi) called Portrait of a Lady. I was charmed by his poems. “When was the collection launched?” I asked. “Last April by the headmaster of my alma mater, Doon School. It sold out and a second edition is in the press.”

I understood how he came to speak like a pukka Brown Sahib. “I’m translating verses of the legendary historian of Punjab, Shah Mohammed, into Hindi and English.” I reproduce both:

Mera pehla salam uski
Jo kudrat ka khel banata hai
Har lok ka naksh nigaar karke
Rang rang ke bagh lagvata hai
Voh pilchhley safey mitaa deyta
Aagey aur pay aur bichhaata hai
Shah Mohammed uss se sadaa dara karo
Badshah sey bheekh mangavata hai
My first obeisance to Allah
The progenitor of all nature
He surveys all the different world
Creates a garden of a thousand colours
He wipes off the pages of the past
While laying out the future.
Shah Mohammed be ever vigilant
He changes a padshah into a beggar!

Right Diagnosis

Patient: “Doctor, are you sure I’m suffering from malaria? One of my workers was getting treated for malaria by his doctor, but he died of typhoid.” Doctor: “His doctor was not qualified and experienced as I am. I assure you that if I treat you for malaria, you’ll die of malaria only.
(Contributed by MG Kapahi, Delhi)

The views expressed by the author are personal