Sunday, November 20, 2011

Good sound byte on black money; now BJP should let Parliament function….

Advani made a typically dramatic statement yesterday – probably the only highlight of his 12000 km long yatra really – that all BJP MPs would give a written declaration to the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and Chairman of the Rajya Sabha that none of them (directly or indirectly) have any black money outside India. That’s a terrific statement to make really! But like most statements that BJP leaders make, this one also is more rhetoric.

What’s the big deal about MPs making such a declaration? All MPs in any case have to declare their statement of wealth every year – and thus if one assumes that all of them have truthfully declared their wealth, then obviously there is nothing outside India that hasn’t been declared. And if we assume that they are lying (as most of us believe they are!), then what’s to prevent them from lying even while making the declaration about black money? By its very definition, black money is undeclared wealth – so no politician – even those who have black money accounts abroad – will ever accept the existence of black money. Equally therefore, they will have no qualms of making any statement on it either.

The BJP is known for rhetoric. And for hyper-nationalism. For example, at the end of every public meeting, BJP leaders end by shouting “Bharat Mata ki Jay”. Now this is great. But such exhortations should be seen in the context of other symbolic gestures the BJP makes about “Bharat” (and its abhorance for the word Hindustan) – for eg. its Hindi is highly sanskritized (as opposed to the more colloquial Hindustani Hindi – a mix of Urdu and Hindi); its religious ideology revolves around Hindutva (as against being more secular); even its historical beginnings as the Bharatiya Jansangh (set up by Shyama Prasad Mookerji – who had been part of the Hindu Mahasabha before independence) is indicative of its Hindu-nationalistic zeal. Keeping these in mind, the exhortation of “Bharat mata ki jay” is nothing but wearing one’s nationalism on one’s sleeve. It’s almost as if, if someone doesn’t say these words, he/she is not nationalistic enough. It’s the same with this black money statement. Making this statement doesn’t show an MP is clean. Not making it doesn’t mean that the MP has black money abroad!

Much of the BJP’s public oratory is driven by its need for creating strong advertising slogans. I remember Sushma Swaraj making this statement in her campaign for the Delhi state elections in 1998: “I will stay up at night; so that you can sleep peacefully”. Very powerful! But not only did the BJP lose the elections, Sushma Swaraj quickly packed her bags and left Delhi’s CM race for good. If big pompous statements could make for good politics, the BJP would be ruling all over India. In fact, they wouldn’t have lost the 2004 Lok Sabha elections – with the powerful “India Shining” campaign catching everyone’s fancy in those days!

The BJP should focus on tough action rather than pompous statements. For starters, it should clean up the mess in Karnataka once and for all. Let it tell Yeddy to stay out of politics and the government (directly or indirectly) till the time he is exonerated. Once exonerated, he can come back with full gusto. Let it also not indulge in double speak on the Lokpal – let it lean on Nitish Kumar to pass the kind of Lok Ayukta Bill that Advani keeps talking about in media. Let Advani also lean on Modi to get a strong Lok Ayukta appointed in Gujarat.

Most importantly, let Advani show some genuine statesmanship by letting Parliament function. There are already statements that the BJP will try and shut Parliament in the winter session. It doesn’t help the BJP if Parliament functions normally and a whole slate of bills get passed. That would give the impression that the government had gotten out of its policy freeze. Likewise, if the Lokpal Bill is even 80% of what Anna wants, and if it is passed in the winter session, the BJP’s grandiose plans of snatching power from the Congress on the basis of the anti-corruption movement would go kaput. If Advani is a true statesman – and honestly, I do believe he has the potential to be – he should tell his party to let Parliament function.

One thing is clear from Advani’s yatra though. He remains the tallest leader in the party. There is no one who comes even remotely close to him. While Modi is a good administrator, he is unacceptable outside Gujarat. I will be surprised if the BJP uses him in UP for its poll campaign there. Sushma Swaraj is also a good leader – and usually conducts herself with great dignity – but she is challenged by many others of her vintage. Besides, her own fingers are a little sticky with her patronage of the Reddy brothers in Karnataka threatening to haunt her. Jaitley is too polished for the politics of India. Nitin Gadkari is a lightweight. In a party full of many young aspirants to the PM’s position – sometimes, the oldest leader (even if some may feel he is too old already) is the best choice. Advani’s yatra has clearly positioned Advani as the frontrunner for the PM’s job in 2014.

The real truth is that a mere declaration by its MPs that they have no black money abroad means nothing. Anyone who has black money abroad is bound to lie about it. It’s a good political statement though and the BJP will no doubt attempt to exploit it in media……

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