Bedtime story for a political fantasist
Column by M.J. Akbar - This story is true, for I do not possess the fabulous imagination necessary to make it up. Nor, I think, do the editors of the British paper the Sunday Times, where I read it.
A Russian became so livid at the rotten soup that his wife cooked for dinner that he stomped out of his home, and promptly got lost in the nearby woods. He was nearly dead of hunger and frostbite by the time he was found a month later. As he reached home, he had only one, deeply philosophical, comment to make: “This is the last time I criticise my wife’s cooking.”
What was the lesson? Never leave home in anger, or, worse, in a tantrum. You married a wife, not a chef. The soup isn’t superb at the neighbour’s either. You have to get along in the real world of homes where the plumbing may or may not work. The rough alternates with the smooth; there are no palaces except in a fool’s imagination.
It is a constant wonder that politicians do not realise that marriage to their party is always for better or worse; that your mealtime luck will vary; and if you wander out of the party in a sulk, frostbite is your destiny. This is just the perfect bedtime story for that specialist in tantrums, the Karnataka BJP fantasist B.S. Yeddyurappa. I do not know what his age is, but his political judgement is that of a teenage who believes that he is earning the family bread just because he got paid a few rupees for an odd job or two. Perhaps he drew the wrong conclusions from his perusal of Aesop’s fables: you can’t get away with the rather wearying threat that you will huff, and you will puff, and you will bring the house down. The house will remain standing, and the damage you do will eventually be repaired even if the immediate result is instability caused by howling winds.
If his party, the BJP, looks vulnerable, it is not because there are chaps wandering around with a blackmail note in their pockets and a storm in their vocal chords, but because the BJP’s high command has this curious conviction that all storms will pass only if you stoop a little. This is the Band-Aid school of management. The BJP’s Karnataka sore is turning cancerous and all they can do is order fresh supplies of Band-Aid. It is axiomatic that the BJP high command’s decisions in Karnataka will impact upon the party’s reputation across India, since the voter is watching. The voter does not want to replace a bad government in Delhi with a worse one.
Some worthies within the BJP try and push the line that the strain of caste competition is at the root of the party’s self-flagellation in Karnataka. This is a pseudo-respectable alibi for a pathetic morass created by a set of leaders who cannot decide whether they are coming to power or going to perdition. The simplest, and possibly most accurate, explanation for the remorseless Yeddyurappa is that he is convinced that the BJP has no chance of returning to office in the next Assembly elections, and so he might as well grab what he can while the MLAs are still around.
Caste and its complications were not very different during the terms of the two excellent Karnataka Chief Ministers, the Congress’ Devaraj Urs and the Janata’s Ramakrishna Hegde. Urs and Hegde were calm and self-assured: Urs’ face was always on the edge of a laugh, and Hegde’s on the brink of a smile. Urs used caste and reservations cleverly to expand the base of a Congress party wrecked by defeat in post-Emergency north India. Hegde had a more patrician approach to the cut and thrust of ground-level politics. Both won re-election without breaking a sweat. Hegde won the most exotic victory in India’s history. In December 1984, Rajiv Gandhi swept the vote for Parliament. Hegde won a clear majority for Assembly in March 1985. If anything, the pressures of caste politics have ebbed since. As is true of so much of India, the voter has changed for the better, and the politician has changed for the worse.
Dissent is a normal aspect of politics; nor is it an Indian phenomenon. Leaders normally give a long rope to dissent, but this rope is a leash; a good high command knows when to turn it into a lasso. If Yeddyurappa seems beyond control, it is only because he is convinced that while BJP’s leaders have a back, it is one without a bone. However, Yeddyurappa is clearly unaware of the Chinese saying: be careful of what you wish, for you may get it. He is pushing for a fellow Lingayat as the next BJP CM. The first thing that a Lingayat successor who gets empowered tomorrow will do is ensure that yesterday’s leader becomes history.
Moral of the story: First, stick to your wife’s soup. You should have thought of the menu when joining the party all those many years ago. Second, anger deprives you of the security blanket called the party. Third, it is lonely out there once you leave home; if Yeddyurappa imagines that he will be welcome in the Congress, he has shifted his intellectual residence to wonderland. And if he thinks regional parties can be wrought overnight, he should check with Manjit Singh in Punjab, who had similar ideas. He should check out Bengal instead. Mamata Banerjee is in office today after three decades of effort. The wife’s soup may be variable, but it keeps you alive.