Vantage point

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Sonia's Done it Again

I have always said that folks who claim they are not interested in politics because it is "boring" are missing a lot of entertainment. The twists and turns in the plotlines of politics can rival any soap opera.

Once again we see a series of events unravelling like a well-crafted narrative in Indian politics. Once again, the BJP was set up for a telling blow by Sonia Gandhi, and they swallowed the bait hook, line and sinker.

This is how it all started. Jaya Bachchan was disqualified from the Rajya Sabha by the Election Commission for holding an "office of profit". It is widely believed that elements within the Congress orchestrated this removal with the dual purpose of targeting the Samajwadi Party, to which Bachchan belongs, and to please Sonia Gandhi, who has been leading a silent feud against the Bachchan family. It is also alleged that Sonia Gandhi herself masterminded this removal.

The SP cried blue murder, led by Amar Singh, but to no avail. It was rumoured that Amar Singh too may lose his seat in the parliament due to the same rule.

Out of nowhere, the BJP springs into action. As we know, the BJP has been lying dormant for a while. They completely failed to extract any mileage out of the Varanasi blasts. In this twist feud between two of their enemies, they saw an opportunity to win some crucial points.

They said that Sonia Gandhi too, technically holds an "office of profit" as Chairperson of the National Advisory Council. Now whether NAC Chairpersonship is an "office of profit" or not, is very grey. In Jaya Bachchan's case, it was quite open and shut since the post, by definition, had a salary. Her defence that she never took the salary cheques hence didn't hold any water.

In case of the NAC however, apparently the post by definition has no salary associated with it. The NAC itself is a new creature, created by the UPA Government, so there is no precedent as such.

This whole issue of "office of profit" is rather murky, since MPs across party lines are holding such offices and are thus vulnerable to disqualification. One had expected that all political parties would agree to a constitutional amendment of sorts which will clear the whole issue up. The only reason the Congress stalled a similar move by Mualayam Singh in UP was to score brownie points with Sonia by causing Bachchan's disqualification.

However the BJP, still obsessed with Sonia Gandhi, saw an opportunity to embarass her again using this excuse. They started clamouring for Sonia's disqualification. What was a universal problem was suddenly turned into an anti-Sonia measure by the BJP. The planned ordinance/bill was said to be drafted with solely Soinia in mind.

The BJP no doubt felt very proud of themselves. Finally they had managed to get the slippery Sonia in a tight spot. So intoxicated was the BJP that good ole Vajpayee announced that if the government came out with such an ordinance, "the government will go". Ermmm...Atalji, how exactly will it go? Vote of confidence etc? Let us not raise such trifle questions with Atalji.

The government then did something rather bizarre. In face of the Sonia-bashing by the BJP and the SP, the parliament was adjourned "sine die" with the reason being stated as "completion of all financial business(this was the budget session, remember?) and no matters pending". The opposition and media yelled like never before. The charges of wanting to save Sonia were again raised, as was the allegation that the adjournment was done only to allow the said ordinance to be passed (since ordinances cant be passed when parliament is in session).

What happened today leads me to believe that the adjournment was nothing but a bait that the Congress threw to the opposition, which swallowed it hook, line and sinker. The BJP further increased focus on Sonia and tried to invoke memories of 1975 when Emergency was declared just to save Indira gandhi's post.

And Sonia Gandhi did it again. She resigned freom Lok Sabha as well as from the NAC. Again, she has seemingly taken the "high moral ground" saying she isn't interested in posts and is hurt at the suggestion that all this drama was done just to protect her posts. Here, she doesn't care about the posts.

The BJP as well as the SP are now in quandry. The media has already whipped up the whole "sacrifice" drama again. An SMS-poll on CNN-IBN shows that 60% believe that it is indeed an "act of sacrifice". Now keep in mind that english-channel-watching classes have traditionally been the biggest Sonia-haters. If even among them, 60% feel it is an act of sacrifice, you can imagine how it will be perceived by the general populace.

Again, several birds have been killed by this one stone. The BJP has been made to look stupid for the umpteenth time. The SP is baffled too. The worst trapped is the Left which so far was safely on the sidelines. Nine of their MPs hold these purported offices of profit. They can't follow Sonia's lead, because...well,. it's already been done. They also know that this "2nd coming of the sacrifice" will be exploited fully in the forthcoming elections in WB and Kerala.

Sonia Gandhi and her supporters have shown themselves to be by far the wiliest folks in Indian politics. I don't believe this "sacrifice" nonsense, but I have to doff my hat at the tactical brilliance of this decision.

The BJP leaders who refuse to learn from their mistakes need to ask themselves - have they really come to terms with the changed rules of the game? Do they realise that they are fighting, not Indira Gandhi who was power-hungry and quasi-dictatorial and thus easy to make a public villain out of, but a prima donna named Sonia Gandhi who knows that she need not hold posts to pull strings. A woman who is brilliant at impression management and knows the value of a "moral high ground" in as emotional an electorate as ours.

The BJP leaders are on TV now, making hollow triumphant voices, saying the resignation is a vindication of their stand. Just like the resignation in 2004. But one hopes they know better. Or do they? Will they continue to repeat these blunders? If they do then Election 2009 is going to be easy pickings for the Congress.