Will a government which hasn't been there all
along, finally go? Will its departure lead to elections or will it
be replaced by a new government which will be there no more than the
one which was never there and has at last gone? In a word, the first
feature of what was happening was that everything could happen.
Second, that at the end of the line there would be
a principle waiting to explain whatever eventually happened. Third,
the issue which had been used to trigger the entire chain of events
was one which wasn't there either, least of all in the eyes of those
who had used it.
For there is absolutely nothing, not one fact in
the Jain Commission report which could have been a sudden revelation
to Congress. More than that, there are as many facts which would
nail Congressmen as those which would inconvenience others: That
Indira Gandhi and Rajiv had patronised LTTE, that the greed of the
local Congressmen themselves for votes is what had dragged Rajiv to
the venue, that the trial for Rajiv's assassination had been going
on for six years, that in fact it had been concluded and none
connected with DMK had been named thus far even as an accessory to
the crime, that the assassination had been executed when a
government propped by Rajiv and Congress was in office in Delhi and
the state was under President's rule...
Most embarrassing of all: Not once in eleven years
had Congress either acted on or demanded that anyone else act on the
report of the Commission on the assassination of Mrs Gandhi. After
all, we must assume that Mrs Gandhi has been as dear to Congressmen
as Rajiv. And that Commission was not just about Rajiv's mother, it
had been instituted by Rajiv himself, and it had reported its
findings when Rajiv was himself the Prime Minister.
"We will table the Thakkar Commission Report," J H
Patel, the chief minister of Karnataka, threatened one day, "as well
as the Bofors papers." But hadn't the government already tabled the
Thakkar report, I asked Congressmen. They didn't remember. When that
report was tabled, was it accompanied by an ATR, I asked. They
For those who sought to corner the government on
the basis of the Jain Commission's report both the government and
the report were contrivances. But the ones who were doing so were
themselves contrivances -- actually, they were straining so that The
Unknown would deign to pick them up as her contrivances. A
contrivance of a government buffeted on a contrivance of an issue by
persons whose highest aspiration is that they be adopted as a
contrivance by The One behind the Wall. And yet we make-believe that
we are not a Banana Republic.
And what they led to was more a result of things
gathering a momentum of their own than of design, save in one
The assassinations of Mrs Gandhi and of Rajiv are
the only USPs which Congress has had in the last decade.
But even it has been unsure that they would fetch
votes yet again -- recall the lukewarm wording of the initial
resolution, the 'We-cannot-go-by-press-reports' statements of those
purveyors of the day's inanities, the party's spokesmen.
But then three factors took over. Congressmen
realised that if even on Rajiv's assassination the party seemed
indifferent, if even in the face of this it repeated the old line --
as Kesri had done, "I am an old man, at no cost will I do anything
which will help BJP" - they would be completely forfeiting their
USP. Second, faction play in the party took over -- that Kesri could
be cornered for not having been sufficiently outraged became a
handle for every other 'stalwart' in the party. And then there was
the uncertainty about how much sobbing alone would assuage
It is quite natural that the initial lukewarmness
should have upset Sonia -- after all, here was a lot that had been
living off the name of her husband and mother-in-law for decades,
and when the time had come by their indifference they had shown that
it had been all a put-on.
But there was also prudence and calculation, and
this is the part which design played: Had not the Swiss
representative at the Interpol conference in Delhi revealed that the
rest of the Bofors papers would be handed over to the Indian
Government before the end of the year?... The moment her preference
became known, every 'stalwart' strained to outdo the others in
living up to her anxieties.
Competition, thus, became stampede. And desperation
was transformed into hope: With their state units in tatters,
Congressmen have been dreading elections; but now they had rushed to
a precipice, and as a man who sees at the last moment that he has
nowhere to go but over the cliff, shuts his eyes, shouts, 'Jai
Bajrang Bali', and leaps, they convinced themselves that at last
they had got an issue which would move people, that Sonia will get
They jumped all right, but, midway down, panic
struck again: Which is the state in which this gamble will pay off?,
they asked their leaders.
No one could name one. And so another round of
meetings, another round of formulae, another round of blaming each
other for pushing the party into a situation it had not bargained
This was one half of the picture: Congress is just
tremulous shadow. The other half was: The government had been a
shadow standing on this shadow.
Who can work up sorrow at the passing of such a
phantom? Who can be elated at its survival?
Or at its being replaced by some other ghost? But
the problem is that this last government has not been some
exception, it has been the norm.
How can a country, with a ruling class in this
For the moment we can console ourselves a bit by
the fact that even such a denouement serves a purpose: That of
Once again leaders have bared their true character
for the people. Remember what happened at the time of the debate on
Deve Gowda's ouster? 'Under no circumstances shall we let down our
colleague and leader, Mr Deve Gowda,' they swore in the Lok Sabha.
And it transpired that at the very moment they were swearing
fidelity in the House, they were asking Congress who else should
they put in place. In this round too, nothing that they said was
final, at each turn everything was possible. That is the most
important lesson: Unless persons of character are put in office no
constitutional scheme will work, the country cannot be saved.
The second lesson we must remember the next time we
go to vote: If once again we vote by caste and the like, the result
will be another fractured Parliament, another round of
non-governments. The long term problems have already become so large
that one despairs whether they can ever be solved in a democratic
set up. Another round of the last ten years, and they would have
swollen enough to bury us.
Clearly, to lift the people out of considerations
like caste, a real choice has to be put before them. This is where
recent maneuvers within and of BJP have caused so much distress
across the country.
Among section after section there has been the
notion that all is not yet lost, that there is still one group
which, once it gets a chance, will pull the country back on the
rails, and that is BJP.
Across the country ordinary people have pegged
their residual hope on this notion. But BJP seems to have thought
fit to proceed on the opposite premise: It seems set on convincing
the people, "See, we are no different from the others -- do not be
afraid of us, do not treat us as untouchables." This decision has
been a real blow to the assumption which many had clutched as a
reason for clinging to hope. Moreover, at least I do not think this
new avatar is going to fetch votes either -- how can people work up
an enthusiasm for another 'just-like-them'?
Therefore, for the party which faces the greatest
choice, the moral is: Give people a real choice, be visibly
Whether one contrivance goes or another comes,
elections are the inevitable and only way out, and, when they come,
everyone can help: Students' organisations by refusing to do the
running around till their party removes criminals from its list,
businessmen by denying payments to a party unless it fields
candidates who are manifestly qualified to be legislators, to man
governments, journalists by mercilessly nailing the record of
candidates, citizens' groups by monitoring the conduct of parties
and candidates during elections.
But given the condition to which affairs have
descended, two more tests are needed. The first concerns political
parties. From being movements, they became machines for winning
elections. But even that stage is past: Today they are contrivances
for mustering post-election majorities. But such organs cannot
Therefore, we should look for the party which takes
steps to, and which places itself in the hands of persons who will
reconstruct the party into an instrument for actually doing
something for the people. When it is not in government as much as
when it is in power.
Second, the last few rounds teach us that replacing
one individual at the top by another makes little difference now:
Narasimha Rao was very competent in many ways, I K Gujral is a
decent man, but in spite of them the longer run deterioration has
continued. Even replacing one party by another no longer makes much
difference. Each of them has replaced several others in states and
at the Centre from time to time, but the secular decline of
governance has continued, the long term problems have continued to
fester. In addition to looking for the party which has better
candidates, therefore, we should look for the party which works out
sensible ideas for changing the electoral and constitutional system
itself, which makes them a part of its electoral platform, for the
party which seems the one more likely to carry through those