Saturday, May 9, 2009

The BJP’s Obsession with the Gandhis’

In this Indian election drama, as played out among voters and the sound-bytes on television, three things are becoming evidently clear. One, all the political parties in the country have no ideology (barring secular vs. communal) and regional and smaller political parties want a bigger piece of the pie. Two, public policy is not open for debate to the general public. Each party will govern the country or state as it pleases with no accountability or questions. All of the above opinions have become the common norm in the country and accepted (with a bit of cynicism, I must add). However, the last, probably the most evident and conspicuous is the nation’s and more importantly, BJP’s obsession with the first family of Indian politics, the Gandhis’. What is it about the Gandhis’ that create BJP’s obsession?


For the sake of full disclosure, I must say that I am in awe with the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. I am not in agreement with their public policy or governance (in fact, I hate it most of the time), but their rise to the pinnacle of power is certainly inspiring. In the 60 odd years of Indian democracy, Indian has seen almost 80 % of its democracy under the Nehru-Gandhi rule. Given the vast history of the Gandhis’, it is perfectly understandable that the public-at-large are fixated on them. Even the 24X7 media attention is comprehensible, though deplorable. Some may revere the Gandhi family, while the other admonishes them as political dynasty. However, why is the BJP fixated on them?

Ever since the BJP became a political party of importance in the national stage (circa 1987), their obsession with anybody with the family name Gandhi is mystifying. Not to mention, their vehement tirade against the Gandhi family (the Congress Gandhi) and unprecedented support to the other Gandhi, i.e. Varun or Maneka) is appalling. I must add that all of these are not election issues, not by miles or even light years. However, they are all connected in the landscape of BJP politics.

Over the last decade, Sonia Gandhi has been put on the hot seat (despite her reluctance). The drama played out by the BJP (Sushma Swaraj et al) after the 2004 elections with regard to Sonia Gandhi becoming PM may put some of the most ardent haters of democracy to shame. It should be noted that, unlike many countries in the world including the United States of America, the Indian constitution allows naturalized citizens to become head of state. A valid argument is that if Mr. L. K. Advani or Dr. Manmohan Singh (and others from the partition era) could be PM’s in spite of being born in Pakistan, what part of the constitution stops Sonia Gandhi being an MP or a PM. Anyways, it is highly unlikely that she would ever become a PM. Now, she is following the Indian tradition of passing the baton to her son. It is even more interesting because she is supposedly an Italian till today (at least according to the BJP). If she followed every known Indian tradition there is (renouncing power, khandaani culture by passing the baton etc.), then is she still an Italian?

And as they say, the never-ending saga continues. Rahul Gandhi is now treated as the heir apparent to the throne (Mr. Yuvraj). In addition, Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra is becoming the star campaigner and probably the most charismatic among all Gandhis’. Whatever be the case, the BJP’s diatribe against Rahul and Priyanka (remember Budiya and Gudiya) is even more perplexing (they are neither becoming PM’s nor are Italian). In a recent press conference, Rahul Gandhi, among other things, praised some of BJP allies for good governance. The BJP response: “Rahul Gandhi is immature and does not understand politics”. When Rahul says he wants to enhance inner party democracy within his party, in spite of him being a product of a closed system, the BJP response: “Hypocrite, How can a product of the system, even suggest changing the system”.

As a political party, the BJP has every right to question, debate, disagree and even admonish the public policies of an opposing party. In fact, it is their duty. However, in an election where issues affecting the nation are paramount, the lack of them in political debate is baffling. Like all other parties, the BJP also succumbed to such ineptitude. There is a reason. For the BJP, national agendas and populist views (India Shining) do not get them votes. For them, the only way to play the game of politics, enthuse their cadres and like-minded votes alike, is to repeat just two main words, i.e. Ram (Hindutva) and Gandhi.

The image drubbing that the BJP received in Sonia Gandhi’s case, not once but twice, is unlikely to be forgotten by them for some time. Therefore, they know they can not repeat the same mistake this election cycle. With Manmohan Singh as the PM candidate, the foreign origin suddenly became a non-issue. Also with the Ram Mandir almost moving to oblivion, the only weapon (Brahmastra) the BJP have left in their arsenal: THE GANDHIS.
Why should Rahul or Priyanka Gandhi be of any concern to the BJP. To their credit, they do make some arguments and not just jingoistic rhetoric. One, how can you allow dynastic politics in democracy? How come Rahul Gandhi becomes PM-in-waiting or party president even though he does not have experience and is a novice. In addition, their concern is that if Rahul Gandhi does become PM, the country is on the road to nowhere. Their arguments, while debatable are still ludicrous. The counter argument is: Why do you care. If the opposition party like the Congress is not democratic and loses ground every election cycle, shouldn’t the BJP be elated? If you think the public is so concerned about the Gandhis’ becoming PM (and provide bad governance as an extension), how is it the BJP does not win elections even by a whisker (let alone landslides).

The answer is BJP is scared of the Gandhis’. In the mind-set of the general public, the Gandhis have a mass following that would make even Barack Obama envious. Imagine having a 32 -45 % favorability in polls, despite being part of the family that is the reason for the current state of India (good and bad) and in power for the last 60 years. Somehow, the entire anti-incumbancy escapes the Gandhis’.

The bigger question is: Isn’t the BJP itself moving in a road to nowhere with such personality politics. In an effort to energize their base, the BJP resort to such tactics and this starts their obsession. What they fail to understand is that the more they speak about this, the more they open themselves to ridicule and increase public adulation for the Gandhis. Silence is sometimes golden, which somehow escapes the BJP think tank. Imagine the days when no when talked about the Gandhis and they are moved to political oblivion. BJP is not the only political party to behave this way. Most political parties in the world do this (Republicans in the US with Clintons and Kennedys’, guns, taxes, and gays; Democrats with all the other issues and Bushes’). No matter how it is played, in the end, democracy pays the price, which sooner or later BJP must realize. Triviality is a bane in public policy. To prove that they are holier than thou, the BJP must rise above personality politics and introspect their politics. This is probably the only way to gain popular appeal and win elections convincingly.

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