Political rivalry that undermines national interest damages India’s claim to leadership and distorts its image as the world’s largest democracy.
Personal hostility seems to be the driving force
behind politics in the country.
Indian politics have come a long way in their downward slide since the days of Jawaharlal Nehru. In his day people differed on policies. But there was no personal vendetta. BR Ambedkar and Shyama Prasad Mukherjee were among some noted adversaries of the Congress. Yet, Nehru not only included them in his cabinet, he even entrusted Ambedkar the task of drafting India’s constitution. In 1959, when Rajagopalachari, the fiercest critic of Nehru’s politics visited Delhi, Nehru called on him at Rajaji’s daughter’s residence to pay his respects.
No more. That has all changed. Today politics is all about personal acrimony and vilification of rivals. In U.P. for instance, Mayawati and Mulayam Singh will not share a cup of tea. In West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee will not attend a meeting presided over by Buddhadeb Bhat- tacharjee. And in Tamil Nadu, Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa seem bent upon seeing each other in jail.
Even national and state interests are sacrificed to personal hostility, because a polarized political climate prevents evolving a consensus on key issues. Thus, when Sri Lankan navy attacks Tamil Nadu fishermen, the rival Dravida parties treat it more as an issue that concerns a particular party rather than one that affects the state. Similarly, when the Bengal government was trying to keep the Tata Nano in the state, the policy was opposed only due to political rivalry, even though it deprived the state of a major investment that was in public interest.
Analysts trace the drift to Indira Gandhi’s attempt to ‘personalize’ politics. She was the first to see political rivals as ‘enemies.’ So much so that she treated Jayaprakash Narayan, with whom the Nehrus had shared an enduring bond, as enemy number one and sent him to jail. By imprisoning him and other Opposition leaders during the Emergency, Mrs. Gandhi created the basis for a politics that was no longer fought according to the rules of the democratic game.
During Rajiv Gandhi’s rule, the fight between the government and the Opposition culminated in en masse resignations over the Bofors issue. In Narasimha Rao’s time the misuse of investigative agencies to implicate political opponents became the norm. Even AB Vajpayee, who had much in common with Nehru, did little to stop the campaign of calumny and insulting remarks against Sonia Gandhi “videshi bahu,” (foreign daughter -in-law), when she took over as Congress leader.
And when Advani’s autobiography was released, all members of his United Progressive Alliance boycotted the event. Sharad Pawar was the lone exception.
A visible loss of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s grip on the affairs of the state has further compounded the situation. As he ap- pears helpless before the mounting tide of corruption and inflation, ambitious fortune seekers appear to be shuffling their feet in the wings to take over from him. Not surprising therefore that home minister, P. Chidambaram told an American newspaper that the “Manmohan Singh government was suffering from an ethical and governance deficit.” In the aftermath of the 2G scam there has been a near breakdown in the Oppositiongovernment relationship. The opposition boycotted the winter session of Parliament to force the government to accept its demand for a joint parliamentary committee, thereby setting a hazardous precedent. It would mean that if a ruling party decision is not acceptable to the Opposition then it would use a prolonged parliamentary standoff as a weapon to force the government to fall in line.
It would seem as if India has taken a leaf from Bangladesh politics, for these are the usual tactics adopted by the Sheikh Hasina Wajid and Begum Khaleda Zia, heads of the two major political parties. They take turns as prime minister of the country. When one of them is in the driving seat the other would go on prolonged boycott of the parliament. Each launches a witch hunt against her political rivals.
Today politics is all about personal acrimony and vilification of rivals.
In U.P., Mayawati and Mulayam Singh will not share a cup
of tea. In West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee will not attend a meeting presided over by
Their mutual hatred is so deep and so passionate that, after coming to power, Hasina had Khaleda evicted from her bungalow in the Cantonment where she had been residing since the time when her husband, Gen. Ziaur Rahman was alive.
In fact she seems hell bent to efface the name of Ziaur Rahman from everything associated with him. She plans to rename the Dhaka international airport after her father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, replacing the name of Ziaur Rahman that it has borne so long.
Even history is sought to be distorted to deny Ziaur Rahman’s role in the liberation war. All the time it has been accepted that Ziaur Rahman, then a Brigadier, speaking over a clandestine radio from Chittagong in the wee hours of March 26, 1971, declared independence for Bangladesh and rallied people to rise and resist. This was a known fact, because, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had been arrested by the Pakistan military and flown away to Multan and other top leaders of the Awami League had either fled to India or gone underground so there was none to make the vital proclamation.
But India, as the largest democracy, aspiring for leadership and a seat on the Security Council, must shed pettiness. In this context, therefore, Lal Krishna Advani’s letter to Sonia Gandhi, saying “sorry” for dragging her name into the black money tangle, was a welcome sign of the revival of old values. Even though he ultimately claimed that saying sorry did not amount to offering apology, yet he has set a healthy trend. The writer is a senior political analyst and former editor of SouthAsia Magazine.
Politics or personal hostility?