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|May 17, 2001||
The heart has its reasons
I must be totally stupid. For years now, I have believed that the Indian people want a clean government, an effective government, a government that stands for certain correct values in public life. Values like honesty, hard work, the rule of law. Values that go beyond the ephemeral calculations of electoral politics. I was wrong. Entirely wrong. Or so the results of the state elections have proved. Apart from, of course, bringing the BJP-led NDA to its knees.
Let us take the amazing case of Tamil Nadu. Jayalalitha is possibly one of the most corrupt politicians around today. There are many charges against her and some of them are currently in court, which is why she was not allowed to contest the election.
She even defied the Election Commission and filed her nomination from four different constituencies. But now that she has romped home with a spectacular victory that leaves no doubt in anyone's mind what the people of Tamil Nadu want, I guess we have to accept the fact that people out there do not see her as corrupt. Even if they do, they do not consider corruption such an important issue as to deny her another bash at being chief minister.
So who cares now what the courts decide? Who cares what the law says? Who cares whether the media agrees? The people of Tamil Nadu have chosen their ruler. They want their Amma back and if the law does not accept this, the law must change. After all, let us admit the truth: what counts in a democracy is the popular verdict. Not what you and I think.
What happens to all the cases against her? What happens to her unlawfully acquired assets? Assets entirely disproportionate to her known sources of income. Her land, her jewellery, her imported cars, her fabled wardrobe, her collection of shoes? What happens to all this talk about cleaning up politics and punishing the corrupt?
Well, I guess it goes for a toss. We are now back to greasy palms and huge payoffs and, if you think it is Tamil Nadu's problem, think again. The tentacles of corruption have this habit of growing extra fast and before you can say Sukh Ram backwards, Jayalalitha's powerful influence will extend all the way up to New Delhi. There is no choice. We are stuck with her all over again and who cares whether she is corrupt. She is back in power, that is the point.
Let us take West Bengal now. I am no admirer of Mamata Banerjee and I think she is a pain you know where. But that does not detract from the fact that the Left Front has, during the past quarter of a century, taken the state down the road to nowhere. There has been no industrial growth. Jobs have shrunk. Career opportunities have vanished. What was once India's finest industrial state is now on its knees, sick, impoverished, largely ignored by both foreign and Indian investors.
Admittedly, it is not just the fault of the CPI-M. The Centre has also played an important role in impoverishing West Bengal. But that does not absolve the Left Front of its responsibilities. You cannot keep blaming the Centre for everything.
Jyoti Basu was not exactly a weak chief minister. In fact, during the United Front regime, he was not only very powerful and respected, but there were many moves to make him prime minister. Yet what does he have to show for a quarter century of Marxist rule in West Bengal? Nothing. Nothing apart from a few land reforms. If ever there was an effete government, it was his. Yet the people out there have chosen to stay with the Left Front.
How did this happen? Why? Everyone thought the anti-incumbency factor would work to Mamata's advantage. Particularly since the Left Front, despite its otherwise clean, bhadralok image, had no significant achievements to speak of. Yet Buddhadeb Bhattacharya brought about a resounding and totally inexplicable victory. An anachronistic ideology, a rotten track record, and a quarter century of industrial decline: nothing could stop the CPI-M from romping back to power. Its overwhelming mandate means the electorate in West Bengal actually likes a government that does not work.
The Congress has done better in Kerala and Assam. We know what that means. Sonia Gandhi will now take credit for the victory. Instead of being more circumspect and acknowledging her ignominious defeat in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, she will now crow about her success in Kerala and Assam and try to argue that this is her mandate to bring down the NDA at the Centre. A mandate to try and claw her way to power. This means more unprincipled alliances, more restive politics, more dirty games in Parliament, more street fights.
She stalled Parliament for much of the last session. She will try to stall it even more now. For she has finally got a mandate to represent the people of two states, in her own right. The fact that Kerala actually voted for A K Antony and Assam against Prafulla Mahanta will be quickly forgotten. The victory will be Sonia's.
In other words, I was wrong. Completely wrong. People do not vote for clean governments, they do not vote for governments that work. There are other strange reasons that move them to exercise their franchise in a way that defies all rational explanation. Who am I to argue against it? Who am I to protest? It is enough that I recognise my own failure to understand what drives people to vote back crooks and effete governments. It is enough that I concede the simple fact that we, in the media, have frankly no idea why people sometimes vote the way they do and why the simple laws of right and wrong, as we know it, do not eventually determine the way politics works.
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