What makes Indian politics unique is its focus on the self. Every politician is convinced that it is his right to become a minister. Every minister believes that it is his right to remain a minister as long as he lives. Every minister wants his son, too, to become a minister by right. These verities of democracy are again kicking up storms in Karnataka and Kerala—Karnataka because it is still in the process of settling down after an election, and Kerala because some of the country’s most crooked brains are reinventing the technology of party politics.
To understand how retrograde this political culture is, we must look at what happens in mature democracies. In Britain, for example, there are four former prime ministers still around. The oldest of them, John Major, lives quietly, acknowledging old age at 75. Tony Blair keeps himself busy running a think tank called the Institute of Global Change. Gordon Brown, a PhD, holds unpaid positions in organisations devoted to education and economic policy. David Cameron contributes his time and energy to Alzheimer’s Research UK and the National Citizens Service. None of them interferes with politics or with the affairs of the parties they once led. When they retire, they retire.
When Indian politicians retire, they don’t. Consider the case of HD Deve Gowda. At 85, he is frail but playing politics full-time. He has made one son chief minister for the second time, another son a senior minister and is busy grooming a grandson for Parliament. All these are secondary manoeuvres for the grand finale of himself becoming prime minister again.
It’s nearly a month since Karnataka’s new chief minister was sworn in. But the Cabinet is still not in place because the fights over seats and portfolios are in full swing. All except Jaffar Sharief, 84, and SM Krishna, 85, want Cabinet posts. Roshan Baig, for example, has been a minister for many years, handling Home, Tourism, Infrastructure, Information, Urban Development. This time the Muslim seat was given to a newcomer and Baig organised a noisy rally of supporters in front of the Congress office. He is still sulking.
Another crowd of supporters raised slogans asking for a Cabinet post for MLA Haris. This is the leader who was grooming his son for Congress leadership until the son led a pack of rowdies to attack a diner in a pub; after nearly four months in jail, he got bail. A minister given Higher Education revolted because he wanted Cooperation. The CM’s brother and PWD Minister Revanna, already dubbed super CM, ordered a mass transfer of officers including some in Irrigation Minister Shivakumar’s kingdom. Result: Chaos. How powerful is the urge to serve the nation!
In Kerala there was no election and the Left government is well entrenched. Yet, an earthquake took place following the manoeuvres of Three Musketeers of extraordinary talent in political plotting—Oommen Chandy, whose cunning is unmatched, PK Kunhalikutty, a Muslim Leaguer notorious for wiliness, and KM Mani, who believes that God created the universe for his and his family’s enjoyment. Mani has his own party which he uses for striking deals. Recently he left the Congress-led UDF and created the impression that he would join the Communist-led LDF while not ruling out an alliance with the BJP.
The Chandy-Kunhali-Mani axis struck a deal last week so secretly that their own party people were surprised. Mani rejoined the UDF and the UDF surrendered its Rajya Sabha seat for Mani’s son Jose. The irony was that Jose was a sitting member of the Lok Sabha. For the first time in Kerala’s history, a Lok Sabha member gave up his seat to become a Rajya Sabha member. Young Congressmen and respected leaders like V M Sudheeran exploded in righteous indignation. But they should be grateful that the Three Musketeers did not make Jose a member of both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha simultaneously as well as a Central minister and a state minister at the same time. (Rule out nothing. Cha-Ku-Ma’s triple genius can work wonders).
Girish Karnad’s Tughlaq is full of worldly wisdom. Without the shadow of a doubt his characters proclaim: “First, one must have power—the authority to rape. Then everything takes on meaning.” And again: “One should be able to rob a man and then stay there to punish him for getting robbed. That’s called class.”
From HD Deve Gowda to KM Mani, from Amit Shah to Sharad Pawar, they all have the gumption to do whatever it takes to get whatever they want. That’s called class.