Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Secret Diaries of Manmohan, Advani

The Secret Diaries of Manmohan, Advani
- By M.J. Akbar
COVERT (1-15TH JUNE 2008)

How could my fellow-traveller Buddhadeb Bhattacharya call me the worst Prime Minister India has had? That stung. I rather like Buddha. I know his type, a sheep dressed in wolf’s clothing. I’ve done my bit of lip-service to socialism. What option did one have if you wanted some trajectory up the old Congress bureaucracy greasy pole? Indira Gandhi would spread nonalignment at breakfast and turn pink with the salad over lunch: poor dear, no one told her that nationalization and nationalism are not quite the same thing.

Rajiv was different. His instinct told him that this socialist claptrap might be good for the ballot box but would not do for the economy, dear boy. But Bofors blew him away before he could merge his brains to his instinct. However, all this jargon did help when Chandra Shekhar – I wish he had stopped wiping tears out of the eyes of the poor in every speech – became Prime Minister. He kept me in play with probably the last decision of his brief and unlamented term, when he put me at the head of University Grants Commission. That may not sound a big deal when you are Prime Minister, but it is one huge blessing when you are a retired babu in Delhi.

Like a good bureaucrat, I have always believed in what the boss believes in. What a miracle, then, was 1991, the Year of the Great Counter Reformation: I finally got a boss who was persuaded to believe in what I believe in. Narasimha Rao had an intellect but no beliefs. That was helpful. When the call came he somersaulted right into the economic reform box.

I thought Buddha was one of us: spouting socialism as long as the feed came from there, and switching instantly to my old bank’s free-market-leave-the-poor-with-a-trickle thesis the moment we were sworn in. Ah, the pleasures of that great ebb and flow of intellectual dialogue in the World Bank canteen! I didn’t expect Buddha to have as much faith in America as I did, but then he wasn’t lucky enough to land a job at the World Bank. Studied Bengali at Presidency College, I gather. Pity he couldn’t get into Economics. We would have pulled him up to Delhi School of Economics, saved him from the Commies and made him leader of the Congress in Bengal by now. Buddha telephoned to apologise of course, but the explanation was thin: election rhetoric. Bah! I am an honest man. Everyone knows that. How can I help it if everyone in my Cabinet makes money? Why should I be called the worst Prime Minister?

I gave my country the Indo-US nuclear deal virtually single-handedly; even George was saying so. Well, not single-handedly; that is immodest. There were a few others, I must admit it. But who can deny that I brought my nation to the brink of an understanding with the United States that could make India America’s most important ally in Afro-Asia after Israel! We made history, and history will remember its maker! Those who oppose the deal are relics of a dead past! The Soviet Union is long dead, Comrades! I never criticized Buddha for being wrong on the nuclear deal; I could appreciate that he had to toe the party line. Why did he get personal with me just because the Congress has lost every election under my watch?

What I can’t understand is why the geeks of Bangalore never voted for the Congress after all I did for them. I don’t get it. The Indo-US deal is for their India! I’ve sacrificed my future for their future! And yet they’ve shifted to the awful BJP, which didn’t have the decency to support a deal that they would have happily done themselves. I only sold the right to test – which fool wants another bomb, in any case; the BJP would have sold the whole store! Politics is so unfair…

Young Prithviraj Chauhan was wrong when he said we lost Karnataka because Deve Gowda split the secular vote. Judging by the speed with which Gowda’s secular vote rushed towards the BJP rather than towards us, we are lucky Gowda held on to 16%. If he had sunk further, the margin between the BJP and us would have been greater.

I can’t understand why chaps keep talking of inflation as the reason for the Congress slump. My economic policies are beyond reproof. What have prices got to do with defeat? Millions of honest Kannadigas voted for Congress. Don’t you think their wives go to the market? If prices did not affect them, why should they affect anyone else? I can’t stop the price of oil from rising, can I – and when I offer peaceful nuclear energy in 2020 no one wants it! I could have been a Gulliver during these four years but little men from Lilliput have tied me up, made me immobile.
Let us face it, Dear Diary: this is a moment of introspection. I must be honest in my analysis, for I am an honest person. I was reading a Reuters report on the election results; it is a Western news agency, so it was unbiased. Reuters described the results as “another blow for the Centre-Left Congress party”.

That’s it. There lies the problem. The branding is wrong. Congress is now off-message. Bangalore doesn’t want a Congress that veers between Centre and Left. It wants one that veers between Centre and Right. We should rebrand the Congress as Right-Centre, because we are both Right and Centre. Must discuss it with the media boys in the office tomorrow, if I can find one who isn’t looking for another job.

Goodnight, Diary.

Extract from the Secret Diary of Lal Krishna Advani: It’s nightmare time again. I won’t be able to sleep. This is precisely what happened four years ago. We swept the Assembly polls, stepped out with confident stride, brought the general elections forward and fell into a big hole from which we still cannot quite get out. If I had to offer one explanation for that catastrophe, it was the smug look on the faces of all our chaps on television. That cost us the general election. I can see that same glimmer back on some BJP faces on television sets. My sweat is cold already: remember all those who predicted that the BJP would get 300 seats…

It doesn’t bother me a jot when television channels are critical of the BJP. That is probably advantageous. Who cares if their opinion polls give Congress twice the seats it eventually gets. It makes no difference to the voter. The BJP cannot be defeated by its foes. But God save the BJP from its friends!

Is there no one who will ban television news channels till the next general elections are over?

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