Mainstream, VOL LIII No 36, August 29, 2015
MPs waste their Brilliance on Virulent Attacks; It’s time to ask: Where are we Headed?
Monday 31 August 2015, by
Wednesday, August 12, was a miracle day in Indian history. People were thrilled by a rarest-of-rare spectacle—a debate in Parliament. It lasted barely five hours and ended in an anticlimax, but that brief interlude was sheer
excitement for citizens who had seen several thousand hours being wiped out in the last dozen or so years by parliamentarians uninterested in anything but shouting. August 12 was a tonic.
It was also a reminder of the presence in our Parliament of some brilliant members. (The more the pity that they often ignore their primary responsibilities to the people who elect them.) We saw some great performances—great speeches, smart repartees, sharp attacks and sharper counter-attacks. The art of give and take was on full display. All of which showed that these men and women have it in them to serve the country creditably if they want to. Ay, there’s the rub: If they want to.
Since there is not much hope in that direction, the best we can do is to enjoy the cut-and-thrust of the day. Perhaps the best gem was Arun Jaitley’s description of Rahul Gandhi. “The difficulty with Rahul,” he said, “is that he is an expert without knowledge.” It cut deep because of its truth, but it stopped short of reaching the classical status of V.S. Achuthanandan’s description of Rahul Gandhi as Amul Baby.
Sushma Swaraj’s basic query to Rahul was how much his family made from the Italian manipulator, Quattrochi. Rahul fielded it by asking how much Sushma’s family made from the cricket manipulator, Lalit Modi. But the match was by no means equal. The experienced Sushma scored high from the way she framed her charges. “When you go on your next long vacation, Rahulji,” she said with mock respect, “read up on the history of your family, then ask, Mamma, why did daddy allow the killer of 15,000 people in Bhopal escape?”
That black episode needs to be brought up from time to time. Warren Anderson, the boss of Union Carbide that caused the Bhopal gas tragedy, was given special aircraft to travel to Delhi and from there to escape to the US in December 1984. Why? Six months later, the day Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi landed in Washington on an official visit in June 1985, President Ronald Reagan signed clemency papers releasing from jail an Indian named Adil Shahriyar as “a goodwill gesture” and “for reasons of state”.
Adil Shahriyar was a Delhi VIP, son of Yunus Chacha as Indira Gandhi’s children called Mohammed Yunus, a towering family retainer. A playmate of Rajiv and Sanjay Gandhi, Adil’s pastime was taking off with other people’s cars and abandoning them after a few spins. Yunus Chacha had lamented that his son had “fallen into bad company”. How bad became public when he was given a 35-year jail sentence in the US for importing illegal substances and trying to fire-bomb a cargo ship in Florida to collect insurance fraudulently. Release from prison did not help Adil; he died not long after due to “ill health and disillusionment”.
The Gandhi family’s cupboards are so full of skeletons that it really does not require Sushma Swaraj’s oratorial skills to rattle them. On the contrary, she would have gained respect if she had admitted that she could have handled the Lalit Modi affair more wisely. To say that the fugitive got UK residency rights during the Congress regime is like the Congress saying that they are disrupting Parliament because the BJP did so.
Democracy demands mutual accommodation by the ruling party and the Opposition. When one or both sides say I-do-no-wrong-you-do-no-right, democracy stalls. Last week’s debate could have been a new beginning. The Congress had climbed down from its obstinate position that no debate would be allowed unless the tainted Ministers resigned. The BJP also had softened its stand that it would not allow a debate adjourning other business. But that spirit of accommodation did not continue. What we saw instead was a virulent attack on the entire Gandhi family, raising passions on both sides. Prime Minister Modi contributed his mite by staying conspicuously away from the debate despite his being the Leader of the House.
How will confrontationalism help? Having practised obstructionism in its days in the Opposition, the BJP cannot now say it is Snow White. Its plans to have a high-power “Expose Congress” campaign in primarily Congress constituencies in the country will only increase tensions further. It’s time to pause for a moment and ask: Where are we headed?