A feudal mentality can have its benefits. I once worked at a place where the owner would come driven in an SUV. There was complete pandemonium one day when a young chap in a junior position came driving to office in a ‘big car’, the very same white Tata model that the owner possessed. The fact that a kid was going to drive every day to work in a vehicle that the proprietor also came in became a theological crisis of sorts.
A temporary solution was found when broad hints were dropped that it was best to park the car a little way off the entrance of the office. A permanent solution would come about soon when the chap quit, probably to start his own set-up.
The benefit of harbouring such a mentality may not be apparent in this anecdote. But in faraway Chennai, it mattered last week. When the Central Bureau of Investigation’s anti-corruption branch landed up to check whether the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) chief M Karunanidhi’s grandson Udhayanidhi Stalin and his son MK Azhagiri possessed imported luxury cars that had not paid customs duty, the rest of the DMK leadership must have heaved a sigh of relief.
It would be odd to think that lower-downs in the DMK don’t have a Hummer or Landrover bought without customs duty paid tucked away somewhere behind Chennai’s famous lamp-posts — Udhayanidhi being a proud owner of a black Hummer. But by not driving around town in SUVs in deference to protocol, many DMK leaders avoided being raided by the Auto Gestapo.
The CBI itself, of course, has its own protocols of kicking into action or folding in its legs. To confirm that the investigative body is independent and has a mind and body of its own, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh assured the nation, “We are all upset at these events. The government had no role in this, that I am sure of... This should not have happened. The timing of the raid is most unfortunate.”
It would seem that winter, or at least autumn, would have been a better time for the CBI to conduct its raids. Which, unfortunately for non-DMK folks such as N Srinivasan, the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India and managing director of India Cements, wasn’t the case as 11 cars owned by the company were seized by the CBI in the Chennai raids.
Home minister P Chidambaram was even more candid: “Whatever be the reason, I am afraid [the raid] is bound to be misunderstood and lead to allegations.” Yes, allegations that can indeed be misunderstood by the most convoluted minds.
So even as the CBI let the media know a day after governmental whistling in the air — resulting in the CBI suddenly stopping their investigations against possibly dodgy ‘DMK cars’ — that the bureau’s director Ranjit Saha had approved the registration of the case targeting the DMK cars on February 12, a week before Karunanidhi and Co. decided to take raft and jump off the UPA ship, the government had to placate another ally, the Samajwadi Party.
Thankfully, the CBI had not raided Mulayam Singh Yadav’s premises to find imported luxury cycles that had not paid customs duty. That would have caused irreparable damage in Congress-SP relations.
But when the DMK decided to sail away into a Chennai sunset, Yadav took the opportunity of being deeply offended by disparaging remarks made by ex-SP leader and current Union steel minister Beni Prasad Verma and demanding that he be sacked. Frankly, Yadav would have found some cause for being offended, even if that meant being outraged by Ambika Soni digging her nose while he was holding forth in Parliament.
And just to add grist to the mill, Rajya Sabha MP Jaya Bachchan kicked up a fuss about Congress MP Pradeep Balmuchu clicking a picture of her on his mobile phone. Balmuchu apologised and deleted her picture, but Bachchan mysteriously uttered a line that the Congress doesn’t want to hear from anybody these days, not even from a local vegetable-seller: “You will have to pay a price for this.”
So, in the mad month of March, with the government hoping to not piss off more people than is absolutely necessary, expect utter politeness and cuddles all around. And if you find the Trinamool Congress again making coo-ing sounds, don’t be terribly surprised despite the party’s Rajya Sabha MP Derek O’Brien insisting that such reports “are, at best, a figment of a fertile imagination”. A fertile imagination is a coalition government’s workshop.
Remember that Mamata Banerjee with her 19 MPs — one more than the DMK has — drove a car out of her state, so no chances of the CBI rushing to find illegal cars there. And since politics is particularly personal this season, how better to avenge that flip-flop by Yadav when he left Banerjee in the lurch after joining her initially to oppose Pranab Mukherjee’s candidacy as president than to ensure the UPA that all will be safe even if it gets rid of the SP?
Happy Holi! But don’t drink and drive.