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The dynasty's artful dodging - The Indian Express

Kuldip Nayar ()
February 17, 1998

Title: The dynasty's artful dodging
Author: Kuldip Nayar
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: February 17, 1998

The polling is over in 222 constituencies covering 40 per cent of
India's total electorate. There is no wave in favour of any
party. Nor is there any way whereby any of the three formations -
the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Congress and the United Front -
can reach the magic figure of 273 in the 545-member Lok Sabha on
its own. The BJP's citadel, the Hindi heartland, is still more or
less intact. But the party and its allies are far from securing
a majority.

lie main reason for this is the recovery of the Congress. There
is no doubting the difference Sonia Gandhi has made to the
party's fortunes. Even the optimists in the Congress did not
imagine that the party would cross the two-digit figure before
she began campaigning. Now even the most pessimist estimate a
tally of 170, 30 more than the Congress strength of 140 in the
last Lok Sabha.

It means several things. But most of all it shows how the dynasty
continues to weave a sort of spell which is difficult to explain
in rational terms. Her speeches held nothing except a string of
denials and apologies. She only makes allegations but does not
reply to counter-allegations. Sweden's public prosecutor, for
example, said that Sonia Gandhi knows all about the kickbacks in
the Bofors guns purchase. She has not said a word in her
defence. Nor has she explained the role of one of the
beneficiaries - Ottavia Quattrocchi, an Italian who had free
access to the prime minister's house during the Rajiv Gandhi era
and who is on the CBI's wanted list. And for Sonia Gandhi to call
A.B. Vajpayee a liar is contrary to Indian culture' Also, Sonia
Gandhi is yet to explain why she is opposed to the public
auditing of the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, which has amassed crores
and crores of rupees. She is a life chairperson and has on the
board family members and a few confidants, who sign on the dotted
lines. No government has dared to probe into the foundation's

The excesses during the emergency were planned at the prime
minister's house where she lived. One lakh people were detained
at that time without trial. The Press was gagged and an effective
defence smothered, followed by a general erosion of democratic
values. Indira Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi's role model, was the one who
suspended even the fundamental rights of liberty and life. Still
there is not an iota of sorrow on Sonia Gandhi's part regarding
this, much less an apology.

She is getting away with everything because the media, including
Doordarshan, has been tilting towards her. Why it has gone out of
the way to build her up is incomprehensible. That the Hindutva
ideology is pernicious for a liberal democracy goes without
saying. But trying to bring back the dynasty, which has a long
history of dictatorship, deceit and defilement, is like pushing
the country back into the ditch from which it has pulled itself
out after many, many years of Congress rule. The nation may have
to pay dearly for what the media has been doing.

One should, however, admit that a part of Sonia Gandhi's strength
emanates from the rejuvenation of Congress workers, who had
become inactive or had withdrawn out of disgust. Dissensions in
the party also seem to have disappeared after her entry. In
comparison, the BJP looks tom between the liberal Vajpayee and
the hardliner Advani. However vehement the denials, the
impression about the differences between the two is very obvious.
Still the BJP has the best rough-and-tumble political cadre drawn
>from the RSS. It is beginning to count as it is spreading to
remote corners of the Hindi heartland, on which the party is
concentrating. Often its appeal in the name of Hindu rashtriya is

Come to think of it, every political party is using questionable
tactics to win. But the Congress' methods are cruder than the
others. For example, it has dubbed L.K. Advani as a foreigner so
as to equate him with Sonia Gandhi, who is Italian born. Advani
is one of nearly one crore of people who migrated from Pakistan
in the wake of Partition. He was born in the united India. The
fact that Sind, his state, became part of Pakistan, does not make
him a foreigner. On the other hand, Sonia retained the Italian
nationality for many years even after her marriage to Rajiv
Gandhi. To pick on Advani to defend Sonia is not in good taste.

Another example of poor sportsmanship on the part of the Congress
is the way it has captured the Nagaland Assembly. On the one
hand, Chief Minister S.C. Jamir hails the ceasefire by the
underground Nagas but, on the other, he has gone over the futile
exercise of conducting elections to the State Assembly when the
underground say that they are not ready yet. Why should he have
not said that the state would like to hold elections after the
peace talks between the government and the underground? New
Delhi and the Election Commission are equally to blame. The polls
are means to an end, not an end in themselves and are meant to
provide people with an opportunity to elect their
representatives. What purpose does a farce serve? This may retard
the process of normalcy which the Centre is seeking.

But then Congress, since the days of Indira Gandhi, has been
peddling illusion. In the 1971 election, Indira Gandhi found a
vote-catching slogan in garibi hatao. She did nothing about
poverty, however. Rajiv Gandhi promised to build a new India and
the people gave him in the 1984 election a majority of 419 in the
Lok Sabha, more than his grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru ever got.
But he frittered away the goodwill in a couple of years. He
institutionalised corruption and rubbed off the dividing line
between right and wrong. For Sonia Gandhi, there is no dearth of
slogans. She has raised as much dust as she could to cloud the
real problems. Not even once did she take up seriously the Jain
Commission report, which was used as a pretext to bring down the
Gujral government.

The fact is that no party has a proper programme to solve the
people's problems - only to win power. No wonder then that they
all announced the names of their candidates before finalising
their manifestos. This may sound strange to people in other
democracies, but it confirms the impression that an election
manifesto is merely a ritual in Indian elections.

One has often heard from party leaders that the manifesto may be
good only for research scholars. I know of two top economists who
were engaged to draft the election manifesto for more than one
party. In fact, one can see the same phraseology in the election
manifestos they prepared. Fortunately, no one reads a manifesto
closely or compares one with another, otherwise it would be quite
an embarrassment.

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