BY INDER MALHOTRA
Long experience has taught me never to say things are so bad that they cannot get worse. Alas, they do. That the winter session of Parliament seems to be going the way the monsoon session did - and that despite all-party conference and the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh’s dinner diplomacy - underscores the point.
Another disturbing development relates to our China policy after the change of leadership in that country. On the day Beijing created an annoying row over our maps - for the first time it stamped on its e-passports its map showing both Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh as parts of China, the Chief of the Army Staff, General Bikram Singh chose to declare that India-China relations were "absolutely perfect"!
On the other hand, at the end of a long-planned Strategic Economic dialogue in Delhi a number of Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) were signed to increase the trade between the two countries from $ 74 billion to $ 100 billion and their "joint strategy" on economic development applauded. At the same time, however, the Foreign Minister, Mr Salman Khurshid and foreign secretary, Mr Ranjan Mathai put forward to the visiting US undersecretary of state for political affairs, Ms Wendy Sherman, a "wish list" on what this country expects from the re-elected Obama administration.
Against this backdrop, the National Security Advisor, Mr Shivshankar Menon’s decision to "play down" the row over maps - we have retaliated by stamping on our visas on the relevant Chinese passports our map - has drawn much flak. Obviously, he has done so because he is going to Beijing soon for his last meeting with China’s principal interlocutor, Mr Dai Bingguo, who is retiring in March.
In bad shape
Let foreign policy wait and let us revert to the political scene that is becoming tattered by the day. Both the mainstream parties - Congress, the core of the ruling UPA coalition, and the BJP, the principal Opposition party - are in bad shape but the plight of the saffron party is a lot worse, almost entirely because of its own dubious doings. What an irony it is that only a few weeks ago, the BJP, for all its myriad shortcomings, was able to force the scam-smothered Congress to be on the back foot. Now the situation is precisely the reverse. This has little to do with the fact that towards the end of October the "paralysed" ruling party did bestir itself into action, took a number of policy decisions, popular or unpopular, and showed some sign of life by holding public rallies. The main architect of the huge misfortune of the BJP, with its numerous and competing leaders pulling in different directions, is its president, Mr Nitin Gadkari.
Ever since activist Mr Arvind Kejriwal - then dubbed a "BJP stooge" and now convenor of the newly-formed "Aam Aadmi Party" - exposed the highly questionable deeds of Mr Gadkari’s companies, many of them non-existent, the country’s attention is focused on him and his party. Nobody is now talking of the Congress president’s son-in-law but all attention is concentrated on the BJP chief. He could have saved his party from much trouble and embarrassment and himself from much opprobrium had he resigned. But such is the nature of power that it breeds blind ambition. And so unabashed is Mr Gadkari that he has brushed aside even the public demand by important BJP leaders - not just the maverick Mr Ram Jethamalani but also Mr Yashwant Sinha and Mr Jaswant Singh - to go gracefully. Since then the actor-politician, Mr Shatrughan Sinha has endorsed the two senior ministers in Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government.
By now it is crystal clear that Mr Gadkari is being so defiant because he has the rock solid support of the karta of the parivar, the RSS. It was at the Sangh’s nominee that he first became the party president. Then the RSS compelled the BJP to amend its constitution to give him a second term. Again it is the RSS that ordered the BJP Core Committee to reject the demand for Mr Gadkari’s resignation or removal. If he were indeed given a second term then the BJP would almost certainly be on the highway that usually leads to hara-kiri.
The wilting lotus
Bad luck always comes in drones. On the issue of voting on the FDI in retail trade the BJP, once assured of considerable support, has become totally isolated. Worse, while the Gadkari issue was tormenting enough, the leaders of opposition in both the Houses of Parliament, Ms Sushma Swaraj and Mr Arun Jaitley, shot off a letter to the Prime Minister, taking strong objection to the appointment of the new director of the CBI on the ground that the parliamentary committee on the Lokpal Bill had suggested a better way of selection by a panel consisting of the Prime Minister, the leader of the Opposition and the Chief Justice. Mr Jethmalani immediately denounced this, and was joined by Mr Shatrughan Sinha and some others. The BJP leadership has suspended him obviously because he has no political following and is, therefore, dispensable. But would the two Sinhas and Mr Jaswant Singh also be suspended and served show cause notices for expulsion?
The foregoing does not mean that the Congress, though relatively better off than the wilting lotus, is out of the woods. Its condition is best illustrated by a glaring contradiction. It claims - evidently accurately because Ms Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party and Mr Karunanidhi’s DMK are committed to "bailing the government out" - that it has the number to defeat any motion disapproving of the FDI in retail. Yet it remains opposed to any voting on this issue. Maybe it does not want to establish a precedent though the official explanation is that a vote on FDI would "send a wrong message to foreign investors."
Coming to brass tacks, let it be recognised that over the present unprepossessing upheaval in the entire polity looms the long shadow of the Gujarat Chief Minister, Mr Narendra Modi who looks upon himself as the future prime minister. The RSS instantly acted against Mr Jethmalani because it saw him as acting on behalf of Mr Modi. Not just the Sangh and the BJP but also everyone else is anxiously watching the Gujarat elections. For if Mr Modi improves his position in the state assembly poll, the BJP would almost certainly come under his sway and gradually become a one-man party free of the RSS stranglehold. And a bad defeat of the Congress in Gujarat now is most likely to affect adversely its prospects in the 2014 general election.