Wednesday, Mar 19, 2003
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By Inder Malhotra
In the end, the trail of strength in the State Assembly of Jharkhand was averted almost literally at the 11th hour, 59th minute and 59th second. The BJP "high command" decided to turf out the bumbling Chief Minister, Babulal Marandi, whose dubious distinctions include arrests of children of 12 under POTA, and replace him by Arjun Munda.
Mr. Munda is evidently more acceptable to the ranks of the BJP-led combination that rules Jharkhand, one of the three newly created States. For, his ascension has put an end, for the present at least, to the "revolt" against Mr. Marandi that had reduced his majority in the legislature to a minority. This only adds to the mystery why the saffron party's central leadership did not take the remedial action earlier.
However, the moral of the story is not that all's well that ends well but precisely the opposite. For, the dismal drama in Ranchi that preceded the last-minute patch-up yet again exposed, in all its ugliness, what passes for democratic functioning in this country that never tires of boasting that it is the world's largest democracy.
Sadly, the Jharkhand episode is nothing new but entirely typical of what has gone on in State after State for decades during which every elementary norm of democracy has been thrown to the winds by every single political party all across the country. Except that in the Jharkhand situation there were one or two singularly distinct elements.
The first was the curious role of the Speaker of the Assembly, Inder Singh Namdhari, who made no bones about his ambition to be the Chief Minister and unabashedly played politics. Other Speakers in other States have done so, too, but mostly behind the scenes, not so brazenly. Secondly, Mr. Namdhari pushed his claim even though he is not a member of the leading party, the BJP, but belongs to its junior partner, the Samata party. He paid not the slightest heed when the Samata's top leader and Defence Minister, George Fernandes, who is also the convenor of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) ruling in New Delhi, appealed to him to resign the office of Speaker before staking his claim.
For the rest, the squalid struggle for power and office within the ruling combination in Jharkhand conformed fully to the pernicious pattern that has been firmly established through the country over the years.
The seven Ministers in the Marandi set-up who were apparently unhappy with the former Chief Minister simply refused to vote with the State Government and immediately left Ranchi for "some unknown place". Why? Evidently, because they were not sure who among them might be "lured" back into the party fold and how. "Horse-trading" is the euphemism generally used in these circumstances but the cash that changes hands in the political mart far exceeds the price of the best of Arabs.
Since no one knows who might outbid whom and when each side takes great care to segregate and keep together the flock of its "newly won" supporters, this brings back to mind several charming memories of the past. Chimanbhai Patel of Gujarat, who had the unequalled distinction of leading a Congress Ministry first and then a Ministry of which the BJP was a part, used to lock-up his followers in a comfortable farmhouse not far from Ahmedabad. It was Bansi Lal of Haryana who started the practice of putting his flock in a big air-conditioned bus and taking it on "Bharat Darshan".
Even the redoubtable N.T. Rama Rao adopted this technique in 1984 and drove his phalanx from Hyderabad to the Rashtrapati Bhavan to demonstrate to the President that his majority was intact despite his dismissal by a partisan Governor. Utterly unbeatable was the venture of Shankersinh Waghela who brought down the then BJP Ministry of Gujarat. To see to it that none of the migratory birds flew away from his coop, he put them all in a chartered plane and headed for Khajuraho, a destination both exotic and erotic that also has enough-five star hotels.
Under these circumstances is it any surprise that democracy in India has been drained of all its content and has been reduced only to form? Or that governance of any kind has gone to the dogs? Yes, elections are held once every five years and in recent years even oftener. But elections by themselves are not and cannot be the be all and end all of a democratic system. However, this is precisely what democracy in this country has been reduced to.
To win the election by fair means or foul, by hook or by crook and by any stratagem and chicanery has become the basic objective of every politician irrespective of his or her party affiliations.
Elections are doubtless costly and this becomes the excuse to threaten the victory at the polls as a licence to make maximum possible money in minimum time. In view of this one does not have to ask why politicians of all hues are united in firmly refusing to reveal either their assets or their criminal record.
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