By M J Akbar
In Third Eye: India Today
December 17, 2010
It is a bit surprising that Digvijaya Singh proved to be too clever by half. Imitating Abdul Rehman Antulay is not the most intelligent option for anyone who wants to make Rahul Gandhi the next prime minister.
The quality of governance is recognised by the management of a crisis; the depth of a politician measured by his ability to convert a crisis into an opportunity. A good prime minister controls events; a poor one becomes their victim. Each event demands attention, for politics is a daily diet, but all facts are obviously not equal. It can take time for a headline to etch its way into the national memory; the spectrum scandal took two years to become a scar in the collective psyche.
Scars might fade but only if the wound is light; in any case, they never go away. It may sound like a paradox, but every politician knows that when corruption becomes a joke in the voters' discourse, it is no longer trivial. Each time an Indian pays some exorbitant price at the vegetable market, he is reminded, at some subconscious level, of the number of zeros in Rs 1.76 lakh crore. The figure has become a symbol of merciless greed in a culture of elitist loot.
A historic event is easily defined; it lives across the lifetime of at least one generation, and shifts perception and faith imperceptibly but irrevocably. Bofors is 25 years old, but still works as a metaphor. The attack on Mumbai on November 26, 2008 has changed the attitude of Indians towards Pakistan; there is no longer space in their spirit for adjustment with a neighbour that breeds, feeds and protects callous mass murderers and then trots out self-serving theories to justify criminal abetment of terrorism.
A significant charm of democracy is that every political crisis is a public carnival, open to censure of a judge, reproof of the victim, anger of the preacher and buffoonery of the jester. Do not underestimate the joker; a politician may find it easier to survive rage than lethal, viral caricature. The current crisis in the Congress is too evident to bear repetition, except that context is always a useful companion for text. The party has self-destructed in its secure southern base, Andhra Pradesh, and fragmented a vital alliance in Tamil Nadu, states that catapulted it to power in two general elections. The compensation in Karnataka, where the BJP is taking a beating, is insufficient in electoral terms. But it is the situation in the north which is probably more worrisome. The returns from its only reliable northern vote bank, the Muslims, have suddenly depreciated. In Bihar, more Muslims voted for the Nitish Kumar-BJP alliance than for the Congress. A repetition in Uttar Pradesh, where Assembly elections are likely to be brought forward to November 2011, could deflate the party into corrosive depression.
Digvijaya Singh, the party general secretary for Uttar Pradesh, is a clever man. It is a bit surprising that he proved to be too clever by half. Imitating Abdul Rehman Antulay is not the most intelligent option for anyone who wants to make Rahul Gandhi the next prime minister of India. Like Antulay after 26/11, he sought to resurrect a conspiracy theory that had become passe even in the Urdu papers where it once flourished.
The sheer audacity of an event as astonishing as the Mumbai attacks encourages doubt, which is the first step towards conspiracy. But surely Digvijaya Singh has common sense, unless he sacrificed that virtue at the altar of power. The Urdu paper theory is, in brief, that 26/11 was organised to kill Hemant Karkare, a brave police officer, because he was on the verge of exposing Hindu zealots. This implies that Hindu zealots came to a deal with the Lashkar-e-Taiba, whose leader Hafiz Saeed was so delighted that, with the help of ISI, he armed and trained 10 young men, and sent them on Jihad to India so that Hindu zealots might be protected! I am not a votary of the exclamation mark, but rarely has it been more necessary. You have to be scarily bonkers to believe such utter nonsense. It is one thing when an editor desperate for circulation takes recourse to stupidity.When a man who has been chief minister of Madhya Pradesh and could be home minister of India promotes such rubbish, we have to worry about the health of our politics.
A historic event such as 26/11 creates a national narrative that might blur at the edges but is essentially consistent with the truth. Digvijaya Singh compromised the Indian narrative in order to flirt with rabid sentiment.
The irony is the Congress is losing the Muslim vote because it no longer understands the Muslim vote. Indian Muslims have seen through the deception of decades. They are, at long last, rejecting the politics of fear and demanding development. Check out Bihar.