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Anand K. Sahay | 26 JULY, 2015

Is this the Age of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb?

This illustration was crafted by the Economic Times


Ordinary Indians have learned to live with the corrupt and crooked practices of their elites every day, but they are aroused to indignation when their national leaders and ruling parties are perceived to be doing the wrong thing with their eyes open- whatever form this may take, whether accepting bribes or blatantly misusing authority.

In Modi’s BJP, lately both aspects have been on sordid display- in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and, not least, at the Centre. The result is a political chakka jam, or stasis, with parliament facing a virtual lock-down in the monsoon session, and signs of creeping governance paralysis all around.

If there was a single lesson to derive from a historical watershed such as the Emergency, whose 40th anniversary was self-righteously observed by our saffron rulers last month in a bid to shame the Congress four decades after the event, it was this- the people won’t tolerate for long wilful wrong-doing by those who make the right noises when appealing for votes but disdain voters once they are in the saddle.

The BJP seems to have taken no lessons for rulers from the Emergency dispensation when rules and laws were played with by the high and mighty.The RSS, its progenitor, appears just as impervious.

It was not only Prime Minister Narendra Modi who gave heart to the wrong-doers among the BJP senior ranks through his cynical- even crafty- silence as media exposures kept pushing Sushma Swaraj, Vasundhara Raje and Shivraj Chouhan into the corner. The wise one of the RSS, Mohan Bhagwat, given to pronouncing himself on every subject under the sun, also saw no evil. Clearly, he either endorses Mr. Modi’s zany morality, or is too scared to speak up for fear that not falling in line can spell trouble even for someone as exalted as himself in the saffron pantheon. L. K. Advani’s example is evidently not lost on anyone in the sangh parivaar.

A fall-out of the wilful tactic of maintaining a studied silence in the face of disturbing signs of corruption of the high-ups in the BJP and RSS is that a first rate political crisis has suddenly emerged from nowhere, and the government seems to have few resources at its command with which to summon the lost goodwill of the people.

In Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and in the national parliament, BJP’s opponents are arithmetically weak. Mounting a challenge on the floor of the House is not an option. This has emboldened the saffron rulers to take on the tack of keeping mum and ‘letting the dogs bark’. Surprise of surprises, the ruling dispensation has begun to attack the principal opposition party for corruption. This is unique in the annals of democracy and can be said to be the equivalent of being taken out to be shot in the head under a dictatorship. But in the final analysis, in a democracy, political debates are settled on the streets and in polling booths when the new era rajahs remain unmoved in the elected chambers.

When the elderly Shanta Kumar, who was BJP’s Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh when the present BJP lot who strut about cockily were still in their political diapers, spoke up in public recently in his capacity as a member of parliament and a man of conscience, and pithily noted that what was going on was enough “to make our heads bow in shame (sic)”, he was rebuked by the PM. People should “check with the leaders” before speaking in public, Mr. Modi warned. If truth be told, however, there is only one leader in the BJP now, and that is Narendra Modi. And who in BJP can dare to approach him? Such is the fear.

But it appears the former HP CM cannot be shoved into a corner so easily. He stood up to make a reply, and did so with panache on television. A large number of BJP MPs and “even three Union ministers” share his sentiment, Mr. Kumar was quick to retort. If the likes of Mr. Modi and Mr. Bhagwat are wise, they will read the wind; if not, they will come down with a heavy hand. There is no blood on the carpet yet, but the objective circumstances seem to be moving in that direction. Intra-party fissures are growing. The slide can only stop if the Prime Minister himself stands up and takes charge, for once with some modesty, with a little less arrogance.

The question here is how much sagacity does he have? The truth is, we don’t know. A chief minister pushed into the PM’s chair riding the crest of a popular wave through sheer demagogy- we really don’t know what Mr. Modi is all about. All that we do know is that “the Gujarat model of development” he trumpeted about at election rallies is a sham, and he stopped talking about it right after winning the election.

It has slowly come to dawn on people that Mr. Modi is capable of saying almost anything at all for the sake of expediency or convenience, that he has produced not a single new idea so far other than those that benefit his plutocratic friends- the Prime Minister has indeed shown himself to be a re-package artist of sundry old thoughts and programmes. The ‘mann ki baat” broadcasts make this only too plain.

Even as Mr. Modi promised to go after black money in his election rallies, his external affairs minister and his chief minister in Rajasthan were sneakily going about helping Lalit Modi, who had escaped from the country after the Enforcement Directorate charged him with generating black money and engaging in foreign exchange violations on a massive scale. Is this big ticket corruption, or a minor irregularity? Instead of instituting a high-level probe by an independent authority, and jettisoning his senior colleagues until they were given a clean chit, the Prime Minister and his party have invited the opposition to debate and discuss the meaning of corruption in parliament. These are times of devastating irony.

In recent public remarks, Arun Shourie, a member of the erstwhile Vajpayee government, all but accused Mr. Modi of presiding over an oligarchy. His analysis led him to believe that just three people were running the show- the PM, his finance minister, and his Man Friday and BJP president, Amit Shah. A Lok Sabha majority is one thing, but it is just not good enough when the politics is slipping precipitously. That is all too evident. We have entered the age of Aurangzeb in the new Mughal empire.

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