On the yatri trail
Driven LK Advani announcing his rath yatra and Narendra Modi going on a fast on the heels of Anna's popular agitation is seen as the BJP's desperate move to counter criticism that it outsourced the role of Opposition to Team Anna. Here's a look at the new dynamics of opposition politics. Jyotirmaya Sharma writes.india Updated: Sep 17, 2011 23:36 IST
Walking requires three essential elements, a starting point, a fixed point ahead, but most significantly, a theory of motion. Mr. Hazare, his team and their planned yatra is the journey of a gadfly, which neither has a clear sense of the point of departure nor a sense of destination, but manages to upset the political status quo. At best, it proves to be a momentary irritant. Their movement is a vortex and haste is the only ideological pretension that binds them together and invokes responses from a middle class that is equally impatient with itself and everything around it.
No amount of walking can be a cure for that restless idea which manifests in the dictum: something must be done. When this happens, the real task turns into an unreal trick and reality becomes theatre. In this theatre, all parties come to the public arena without a script and attempt to write one on the spot. That is why even satire, what if it comes in the form of Kiran Bedi, fails, for satire to be successful requires a consistent ethical view of life rather than temporary success or a pyrrhic victory.
More than the Congress-led UPA, it is the opposition that needs to fear most from Hazare's trek. Like all men in a hurry, he makes the issues he champions standing and yet emptied of all significance. His supercilious cleverness reduces the distinction between good and evil into a superficial, self-righteous and largely theoretical knowledge of evil, while knowing that neither is good appreciated or valued among the people who are his most fanatical followers. The people who marched in support still look up to Dhirubhai Ambani as their model for entrepreneurship. That's why his rhetoric against corruption targets the weakest link, the politician, while remaining silent about corporates.
The opposition too cannot target the big businesses, for they too dream the meaningless and empty dream of India as an economic superpower. Both share the same dream, the same contradiction and rhetoric: we must end corruption but to make money is good.
The opposition, especially the BJP, will find it increasingly hard to hunt with ‘team Hazare' and run with it too. In an age where momentary enthusiasm people might show in order to thwart boredom or to just feel the powers of life results invariably in apathy. Real heroes pay dearly for becoming heroes, but people who join a hero buy what he paid for dearly at bargain prices. In this instance, neither the hero nor the followers paid dearly for the heroism thrust on them by television news channels by creating a phantom and a mirage called ‘the people'. The news channels and the newspapers, hand in hand with ‘the people' count on the paucity of ideas in society and the lack of any real passion among individuals, and so wait for periodic bursts of enthusiasm and ‘events' in order to survive and keep the abstraction, ‘the people', alive.
Mr. Advani knows a little more about the real world than ‘team Hazare'. As the ‘prime-minister-in-eternal-anticipation and perpetual desperation', he has hit the road again to reinvent himself by jumping on the anti-corruption bandwagon. The leadership of the Ramjanmabhomi movement got him the job of the deputy, but nothing more. He lacks credibility, not just among non-BJP voters but even in his own party. His desperation to become prime minister shows, so does his forked tongue. During his famous visit to Pakistan, Advani told journalists that the demolition of the Babri Masjid was the saddest day of his life. The same Advani had in 1997 called the Babri Masjid ‘an ocular demonstration against the Hindus' and rejoiced in the fact of its absence after 6 December 1992, something he said was not a matter of regret. Moral corruption by any other name smells as bad as Raja or Kalmadi.
Now that some television channels are trying their respective best to hail Mr. Modi as the future prime ministerial candidate, the earlier choice of the Advani-Modi combination, which was merely a choice between varying degrees of shrillness and impetuosity, looks in grave danger of annulling itself. The youthful, self-styled future successor to Advani may not want to be seen as merely a recycled and repackaged version of the current leader. After all, Modi learned the lessons of an amoral quest for pursuing personal ambitions and a megalomaniacal sense of personal destiny from Mr. Advani. To ask him to wait even longer, just because Mr. Advani wants one last go at the top office in the country would be too much for Modi, the RSS and other BJP leaders to digest.
In the end, Mr. Hazare and Mr. Advani, in haste to walk towards nothingness, might just hand over the UPA an undeserved third term.
The author is professor of political science at the University of Hyderabad.