For the benefit of those not familiar with Hindi let me clarify that “Andh Bhakt” (AB) means a person who is a blind follower of his/her idol.
Election season is upon us again; for the State Assembly in Karnataka where political analysts claim that the Congress has a possible edge because of the corruption charges and dissent in the ruling BJP. The latter seems to be imploding with desertions. We also have municipal elections in U.P., the country’s most populous State. It is said that the gateway to Delhi is via Lucknow, and the gateway to the south is via Bangalore.
Hence these are not ordinary elections and merit serious attention. There seems to be only three national parties now, the BJP, the Congress and the AAP. All three seem to suffer interminably from the AB syndrome.
The BJP has been ruling at the Centre for nine years now. I have no intention to do a detailed analysis of its functioning as there are far more competent persons than me to do so. I shall just touch on a few points. Sometimes at the micro level as they have touched me, or some at the macro level that impact all of us.
I begin with a statement in the Hindustan Times (15th April) by Purshottam Rupala, Union Minister for Animal Husbandry and Dairying. He said, contrary to media reports, the country will not be importing dairy products. The previous day’s paper claimed that from 2022, though milk production was up 3.1%, milk powder was down by 8.2% and butter by10.8%. The reports claimed that this was because of loss of 300,000 cattle in 2022 from lumpy skin disease.
On the other hand, there is a report in India Today dated 17th February from Gujarat, a state that accounts for 7.75% of the country’s milk production. It now has an excess of non-productive bovines and has decided to immediately castrate 50,000 bulls as stray cattle have surged by 17.5%, while milch cattle have gone down by 3.5% since 2012. Gujarat is synonymous with Amul and the White Revolution ushered in by Padmavibhushan Dr Verghese Kurien. India then prided itself as the world’s largest milk producer. Today we are talking of importing milk!
Why blame lumpy skins? Why not blame the lumpen elements, the cow vigilantes who threaten and kill livestock owners? One can safely say that over time dairy owners will stop rearing cows and switch over to buffaloes that fetch a remunerative price from abattoirs after they have gone dry. Short-sighted policies for short term electoral gains will backfire in the long run. As Prophet Hosea says, “Those who sow the wind shall reap a whirlwind” (Hos 8:7). Do the ABs see this?
Let me give another example. The Government talks of attracting foreign investment, to make in India that is atmanirbhar (self-reliant). But the Minister for External Affairs, Dr S Jaishankar, recently made a statement in Rajya Sabha that the number of Indians surrendering their citizenship went up from 163,370 in 2021 to 225,620 in 2022, a 38% jump. Is this not a mockery of the government’s claims and propaganda?
Another little experience. I will be going on a family vacation next week so I sent my man to the bank to withdraw Rs 25,000 in Rs 2000 currency notes. The cashier reluctantly gave 12 notes as a personal favour saying that though the bank receives Rs 2 crore in cash everyday, it gets just about 200 notes in the Rs 2000 denomination! So where has all the high value currency gone? Remember how we were told that demonetisation would be the death knell of black money. Now that it is election season, the next time my man goes to the bank he may not get any high value currency notes. A note of caution to the ABs.
Also remember how somebody said “Na khaoonga na khane doonga” (I won’t take bribes and won’t allow others to do so, either). That’s the joke of the season. Ask anybody about the ease of doing business or interacting with government agencies. The going rates have shot through the roof.
About a month ago a young man, known to me, was arrested for alleged “forcible conversion” to Christianity. His mother informed me that he finally got bail after the family coughed up Rs 70,000. Another poor young man, who fills air at the petrol pump, told me that he too had been arrested for becoming a Christian, but got off “cheaply” by paying a bribe of Rs 5000 to the cops. “Na khaoonga na khane doonga”; tell that to the victims of corruption and extortion.
The breaking news is the gunning down of mafia don Atiq and his brother Ashraf, while in police custody in Prayagraj. The jury is still not out, if this was stage-managed for religious polarisation of votes for electoral gain. Remember Pulwama and Balakot just before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, and the resultant wave of righteous indignation and nationalism? Very recently the then J&K Governor, Satpal Malik, has raised serious questions on the entire episode, including the role of former master spy Ajit Doval, now National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister.
The ABs are not limited to the BJP. The Congress too has its fair share, because it is enamoured of “fair complexions”. After the Congress debacle in the 2014 elections under the leadership of Raga I had written an article “Why Rahul Should Quit”. He did; the office, not his officiousness. He continued to control the levers of power in the party, the pivot around which everything rotates.
When I tell some of my AB Congress friends that Raga should leave not just the party, but even the country for a two-year break, they are aghast. They insist that the Gandhis are the glue that keeps the party together. The facts are to the contrary.
Mamata Banerjee, Jagan Reddy and Conrad Sangma are powerful Chief Ministers who quit the Congress in the Gandhi era, to form their own regional parties. Ex-Congressmen like Himant Sarma. Jyotiraditya Scindia and Jiten Prasada are now important ministers in the BJP government. Gulam Nabi Azad has jumped ship and Sachin Pilot seems ready for take off. A.K. Antony, the Gandhi’s trusted aide, has the consternation of seeing his son join the BJP. So, are the Gandhis the binding gum or the solvent that disintegrates the parts?
There is much talk of opposition unity before 2024. While many parties agree in principle, they are allergic to the principal contender to the throne, Raga himself. Almost all senior opposition leaders have burnt their fingers interacting with him. Yes, his Bharat Jodo Yatra was a phenomenal success, but his Oxford utterances negated it all. It was déjà vu of hugging Modi in Parliament and then winking; again a case of self-destruct. Raga today is the greatest stumbling block to opposition unity and the best guarantee that the BJP will triumph again in 2024. The ABs cannot see this.
Now to the third national party – AAP. Conceived in Anna Hazare’s India Against Corruption, it had an array of illustrious leaders from various fields, other than politics. Just as the BJP claimed to be a party with a difference, the AAP was even more so. Then the cookie began to crumble. Gen V.K. Singh and Kiran Bedi joined the BJP. Others like Medha Patkar, Prashant Bushan, Yogendra Yadav, Capt Gopinath and Ashutosh parted company with Kejriwal.
He and his ministerial colleagues are now embroiled in Delhi’s liquor scam. Is there any truth in the allegations, is it political vendetta, or a bit of both? Time will tell. Kejriwal has often been described as the BJP’s B team, playing spoilsport for the Congress in Goa and Gujarat. At the same time one cannot grudge any political party pursuing its own ambitions, nor can one dismiss the good work that AAP has done in the education and health sectors in Delhi.
However, the problem with these three parties is their affinity to individuals rather than any ideology. Even the BJP sings a different tune when it goes to the Christian dominated North East – Mummy and Yummy as Asaduddin Owaisi describes it. Raga too, for all his emphasis on the Constitution and secularism, misses no opportunity to go temple hopping. So where does all these leave us?
As a citizen I have over the years voted for different parties like the erstwhile Janata Party, Janata Dal, CPM, Samajwadi Party, Congress and AAP. I am now on the horns of a dilemma as we approach the municipal elections in U.P. where I live. I am nobody’s AB, so I am studying the ABC of the various parties and their probable candidates. It will be a delicate balancing act to choose between a party and its candidate. Come what may, I shall vote with my eyes wide open.
(The writer is the Convenor of the Kanpur Nagrik Manch)