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Byline by M.J. Akbar:Effect & Cause
One of the most familiar words in the English language is ‘because’, because events are generally ruled by the relationship between cause and effect. If there is a cause there must be an effect. This makes issues, trivial and important, understandable. Examples from mass culture will prove the point. Why do music channels keep showing Adnan Sami songs endlessly? Because that is a reasonably popular way to spend seven minutes of television time without paying a rupee. Why are new songs shifting to Punjabi-soul after years of only Bhangra-pop? They are herding into the Bulle Shah train driven by Rabbi Shergill. Why do murderers get trapped by brilliant detectives in crime thrillers? Because they have a motive. Why does the bikini issue of the American magazine Sports Illustrated (it’s heavily illustrated with a different kind of sport) get thicker each year (224 pages, according to the copy on my table)? Because, despite an inflated price, it sells out faster than bikinis. Why should the editor of this page get tempted to use one of those pictures from the bikini issue as an illustration for this column? Because that damn picture would get an ogle even out of an Edit or Op-Ed page. So why doesn’t that illustration get used? Because there are strict orders on the limits to which an Edit-page culture can go. You get the idea of cause-and-effect. The effect may be obvious but it is the cause that is the real story.
In mass politics, strangely, the sequence so often gets reversed. It is not the cause, but the effect that is the real story. Effect often reshapes and fundamentally alters the starting point. Clearly, this proposition needs some explanation.
This column is being written on the eve of the declaration of results of the Bihar and Jharkhand Assembly elections, hardly the best moment to pontificate on a dicey subject. Elections are also taking place in Haryana, but since the results in this state seem to be a foregone conclusion, we will leave them alone.
What is the situation in Bihar, where Lalu Prasad Yadav has been in power for 15 years? We can leave the scientific business of getting the results wrong to the opinion pollsters. Let us stick to the indisputable. The fact is that every political force, barring a section of the Left, has done everything in its power to defeat Lalu. I say a section of the Left because the most important Leftist group in Bihar are the Naxalites, and they were as determined to end Lalu-Raj as anyone else. The Janata Dal (United) and the BJP were natural opponents, so their mobilisation was on expected lines. In all fairness, the cracks in the Delhi-centric UPA were not unexpected. The logic that keeps partners together in Delhi does not extend to Patna.
If Delhi is the head, and therefore heady, then Patna is the base, and therefore basic. Ram Vilas Paswan cannot sustain his party by telling his followers that the doors of expansion are shut. Neither can the Congress. And in Lalu Yadav’s scheme of things, both Ram Vilas and the Congress were marginal factors, necessary to ensure his victory, but unnecessary in the exercise of power. It was an ideal situation for him, and precisely for that reason could not be sustained. This was a primary cause for the scatter of the Delhi alliance in Bihar. An equally important cause was that every political party overestimates its strength on the eve of an election. After all, elections are a human business. There cannot be precise markers. It is a fluid sum game. It is only in retrospect that the mind clears up. The BJP is still wondering (privately of course) what the tallies might have been if it had given the AGP an extra seat in Assam, Shibu Soren an extra seat in Jharkhand, and stayed with Om Prakash Chautala in Haryana rather than spurning him. If Lalu had felt that the arc of public opinion would steadily move away from him, he might have offered the fifteen extra seats that would have kept the Congress by his side. There was no way in which he could have retained the support of Ram Vilas, since the bitterness between the two is personal. But, in broad terms, when it comes to an analysis of causes, everyone has a story to tell.
No one, including Lalu, knows what the results will be, but the body language of the Lalu camp is edgy. Lalu Yadav himself does not believe in body language. He believes in language. Whether in victory or defeat Lalu Yadav is irrepressible. He has been using a few epithets about senior Congress leaders (apart from Sonia Gandhi) that will never be quoted in their authorised biographies.
There is only one realistic measurement of effect: when topsy and turvy have finished their game, who is in power? No one is getting a majority from the people; power will go to those who can cobble one in the Assembly. Lalu’s problem is that power has only one meaning for him: his wife becomes chief minister again. An ally as chief minister could be as problematic as an opponent in that chair, and a nominee from his own party perhaps the worst of all options. This is a peculiarity of all personality-driven parties. In Lalu’s case there is an added dimension of vengeance. He cannot afford to be out of power.
If Rabri Devi remains chief minister Lalu Yadav will have a vested interest in the status quo. If the dice throws up different numbers, and Ram Vilas, with 25-odd MLAs, can persuade the JD(U) to join his government, rope in independents and get non-participatory support of the BJP then the cracks at the base will turn heads in Delhi.
One nuance has already been established. Alliance in Delhi is no guarantee for a similar equation in the states. In Jharkhand, the Congress and Shibu Soren’s JMM first nudged the third partner, Lalu Yadav, out, and then set about poaching from each other. The aim was not merely to defeat the BJP-JD(U) but also to become the dominant partner of the alliance. This is also acknowledgement of the individual power of a chief minister. That single office outweighs the collective power of a bunch of ministers. This is partly because of the nature of the office, and partly because a chief minister, unlike a Prime Minister, does not have heavyweights as colleagues. This was why the Congress demanded, and got, this chair in Maharashtra, although Sharad Pawar had the larger number of MLAs. The rules were changed because the Congress could use its Delhi muscle.
The Delhi muscle did not work in Chennai. DMK chief M. Karunanidhi took pre-emptive action when E.V.K.S. Elangovan, the Congress Union minister, dared to dream of his party’s return to partial power in Tamil Nadu. The DMK was ready to go as far as to withdraw its ministers from the Central government. It was only a minor coincidence that Karunanidhi called for a meeting of his party on this for Sunday the 27th. This is the Sunday on which the results of Bihar, Jharkhand and Haryana will be announced. The difference between Karunanidhi and Sharad Pawar is but this: the DMK’s departure from the UPA rattles the coalition; Pawar’s departure raises a sigh, but nothing more.
Point of order: Guess who was beside Lalu Yadav in Central Hall, enjoying the wit in his customarily restrained fashion, while Lalu rewrote the profiles of senior Congress leaders? Sharad Pawar. This by itself means nothing. Power has very little to do with friendship and absolutely nothing to do with banter. Self-interest is the primary motive; and a brother’s interest is protected a long way later, if at all.
Point to note: If Lalu Yadav defeats his opponents and his friends, not to mention pollsters, crosses the 100-seat mark, reduces the Congress to 15-odd seats, emerges as the largest single party/group and dictates the shape of the next government, then what? That too will have its consequences in Delhi, because he will demand a larger share of power in Delhi. Could he extend his grasp to Ram Vilas Paswan’s portfolio? Logic suggests that he could. There has been no reshuffle of the Manmohan Singh government since it was sworn in, and these results could set the scene for a fresh check on equations.
When effect impacts on cause, there is but naturally an after-effect.