Monday, March 26, 2012

Mishra or Yeddyurappa, it's the same game: Parties live for today, ignore tomorrow

Not all high commands are the same. The originator of the system in India, Indira Gandhi, enforced it with shock and awe. Congressmen, however exalted, were trained to see their high command the way vassals see their master. Only one chief minister, the late Rajasekhara Reddy, could do things without trembling before the high command. Even he kept up pretences, never publicly defying the almighties.

The BJP is a party with a difference. Nobody trembles before the high command. Many actually defy it. A mighty revolt broke out last week over party nominees for the Rajya Sabha, leaving the high command with mud on its face. This was on top of the running revolt by the party's hungriest infighter, B. S. Yeddyurappa.

The problem may be that party chief Nitin Gadkari, being a wealthy businessman, has the perceptions and preferences of wealthy businessmen. He tends to act like a one-man high command, and he tends to promote his own kind. The nominees who provoked the maximum resentment among party seniors were Anshuman Mishra, an NRI “moneybag”, and Ajay Sancheti, a “fund manager”. Both were Gadkari's buddies.

Mishra was shamed out of the race eventually. But not before senior leader Yashwant Sinha complained about “money power” and said “MLAs should not be on auction to the highest bidder”. Mishra appeared on television which was a mistake because he came through as an operator, the type who exudes the confidence that money is always right. On his own admission, he was a “discreet” Overseas Friends of the BJP propagandist in American campuses and NRI forums. He must have channelled substantial funding to the party. How else could he have the cheek to parachute into India and say L.K.Advani must retire?

The last time an activist of the Overseas Friends hit the headlines was in 2003. Bhishma Agnihotri, wealthy fundraiser like Mishra, was a friend of A.B. Vajpayee, then Prime Minister. So he got appointed as India's Ambassador-at-large based in New York. This was in complete violation of protocol rules and India had to suffer the humiliation of being told by the US that it could not accept the credentials of two ambassadors at the same time.

This is the funny thing about politicians. They often do things they don't have to do. Issues like image, credibility and long-term interests are ignored in the rush for immediate gain. The non-stop Yeddyurappa saga fits into this pattern. Here's a chief minister who had to leave office in disgrace. His successor turned out to be not only a credible chief minister but, more importantly, a clean one in whose watch no scandal broke out. This was a good opportunity for the BJP to retrieve the reputation it lost when the “first BJP Government in the South” became also the most corrupt government in the South.

But the BJP lost a byelection or two after the strong man was ousted. No one asked whether he played a part in bringing about that setback. Some party stalwarts simply panicked and were persuaded to believe that without Yeddyurappa, BJP could not win in Karnataka? Who persuaded them? Yeddyurappa of course, the cleverest intriguer in politics today.

His pressure tactics have been so relentless that questions that should have been asked were not asked. Were not all his victories, beginning with Operation Lotus that gave him a majority in the first place, won on the strength of money, money of the kind that Karnataka politics had not seen before? Did he not polarise politics along caste lines? What makes a lot of MLAs rally round him – sheer love of his statesmanship? And what about the cases still pending against him? If a court were to find him guilty, who then will win elections for the BJP? Gaining time for a few weeks is not the solution. Yeddyurappa is not used to waiting. The BJP will have to decide whether it is a battle or two it wants to win, or the war itself.