Thursday, December 17, 2015

MK VENU - NDA and the Art of Political Mismanagement

The well-known columnist Pratap Bhanu Mehta recently characterised some of the actions of the ruling NDA as coming from “small minds, constricted souls and resentful hearts”. Arun Shourie, former minister in the Vajpayee-led NDA described the same tendency with some visual flourish. “You can’t govern this country if you get up every morning and have a boxing match with someone or the other,” he said. Shourie essentially implied that you can’t run a government at the Centre by threatening Chief Ministers every other day. The manner in which the CBI raided the Delhi CM’s secretariat proves the point made by Shourie so effectively.

 If one reads Mehta and Shourie together, one may begin to understand why the BJP is unable to smoothly run Parliament at all. The BJP leadership’s attempt to blame the Congress alone for Parliament’s dysfunction will not cut much ice. Prime Minister Modi and his coterie must seriously introspect why the government is unable to make Parliament function. How is it that the budget session of 2015 went off so smoothly, without a glitch and trouble started only in the monsoon session in July?

It may be useful to recall that on the very second or third day of the monsoon session a senior BJP minister held a press conference asserting that investigating agencies had evidence of corruption against almost all Congress Chief Ministers, starting with Virbhadra Singh of Himachal Pradesh, Harish Rawat of Uttarakhand, Tarun Gogoi of Assam and Oomen Chandy of Kerala. Of course, this was done in response to the opposition demand for action against BJP CMs in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan on account of  Vyapam scandal and Lalitgate respectively.

 The monsoon session was predictably washed out because of the sheer arrogance of the PM himself who refused to make a statement in the house on controversies surrounding either Sushma Swaraj and Lalit Modi. The PM absented himself on the day the Lok Sabha agreed to discuss the matter.

Hopes were raised in the winter session as PM Modi, apparently chastened by the drubbing his party received in  the assembly election in Bihar, showed signs of reaching out to the opposition by inviting the Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Dr Manmohan Singh for tea. But yet again the prospects of a thaw were belied with a rather strange order from a High Court judge suggesting possible criminality against the Congress leadership in the National Herald matter. The order was unusual because the judge was not mandated to go into the merits of the case and was simply asked to pronounce on whether Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi could be exempted from personally appearing at the trial court where the case is being heard.

It is being intensely speculated whether the judge making all manner of gratuitous remarks on the merits of the case was a pure coincidence. For it led to another uproar as the Congress party cried foul. Now Sonia and Rahul Gandhi have decided to fight this battle politically and have even suggested they are willing to go to jail.

Using the CBI
Meanwhile Parliament is not functioning as most regional parties have rallied behind CM Arvind Kejriwal. Matters have clearly  gone beyond the CBI raid on the CM’s secretariat and there is a general sense that the Modi government is not all that innocent when it comes to selectively using the investigative agencies to browbeat the opposition. Questions are being raised as to why CBI chose not to appeal against Amit Shah’s discharge by a Special Court even before a trial could commence in the Sohrabuddin fake encounter killing case. The CBI’s own charge sheet describes Amit Shah as a lynchpin in the larger conspiracy. How is the same “independent” CBI doing such a U-turn on its own charge sheet?

Overall, as Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Arun Shourie have described, there is a lot of petty combativeness on display. For instance, the CBI planting stories in newspapers about bottles of liquor discovered at the Delhi Principal Secretary’s residence clearly comes from “small minds and constricted souls”. How about getting some more substantive evidence, Mr.Anil Sinha? Such pettiness was also evident when the CBI formally declared activist Teesta Setalvad a “national security threat”. Or when the CBI chose to raid the Himachal CM’s residence on the day of his daughter’s marriage. Such small-mindedness can only come from a feeling of political vendetta.

Sharad Pawar, whom Modi is trying to woo to counter BJP’s unhappy ally Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, made a very telling remark in an interview to NDTV. He said healthy political rivalry is fine but it should not degenerate into enmity. In this context, Pawar said, what has happened with Kejriwal or in Arunachal Pradesh is not right.

The NDA has made a royal mess of managing political relations both inside and outside Parliament. The posture of injured innocence that BJP leaders like Arun Jaitley and Venkaiah Naidu project will not wash anymore.