The last two weeks constituted an unbelievable fortnight. And even in this high ‘season’ of Kashmir, two neighboring Prime Ministers—Narendra Modi and Imran Khan, have yielded space to at least four initialisms: CBI, ED, I-T, and NAB
Indeed, we have seen a flurry of the high and mighty raided, charge-sheeted, questioned (the Indian media somehow prefers the more sadistic ‘grilled’), and marched in and out of courts.
Nothing that happens even in Kashmir right now, or another rant from Imran, or a friendly slap on Donald Trump’s wrist by Modi, can beat the images of middle-aged CBI officers hitching up their trousers and climbing the walls of P. Chidambaram’s Jor Bagh home for immediate news and commotion, or simply, ‘tamasha’- value!
This also brings back to me, memories of a late evening conversation in a decent neighborhood of Naperville’s Oakhurst—along with a treatise on what drives ‘indigenous politicians’ including us. Let me also clarify that it was a totally alcohol-free, one-on-one dinner, and therefore, we can vouch for no elevated level of ‘spirituality’, in this sacrosanct gathering.
‘Why do we invest our lives in politics’? This was a question, my host asked. And, ‘Why do we endure the dust, heat, bumpy helicopters, ‘dhakka-dhakki’ (push-and-shove), court cases, arrests, to get this thing called power? Iss mein aisa kya current hai (what is this irresistible pull)?” he enquirers again.
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‘Not the money’, he said. After all, even after you made all your money, you couldn’t really enjoy it. ‘In our politics, you can’t be seen to be rich’, he said, explaining how even your cars, homes and kurtas had to look modest. Even your families couldn’t be seen flaunting jewelry or splurging.
‘Then, why do they do politics?…. what is this ‘current’ of political power and wealth if you can’t even enjoy it’, I asked.
“Yehi aap nahin samjhogey (this is what you won’t understand), janab,” he said, empathically. Then, he went on to explain what happens when politicians are favored with power. You do to the guy you defeated exactly what he did to you. Not even so much to him, but to his people.
‘We know who his people are, in every district, every village,’ he said. ‘We send our police, vigilance bureau, whatever after them. For those we really want to target, we may even keep a kilo of illegal opium or a murder charge handy.’ Then what happens, he asked.
I said, ‘obviously when your victim suffers, you get your revenge’.
‘See, you don’t understand us politicians (rajnitic junta),’ he said. When we hurt these people, they go running to their bosses and say, huzoor, bachao mujhe (sir, please save me). Then, their leader says he can’t, because he hasn’t got the power anymore. The torture he suffers (jab woh tadapta hai), that is our fix, he said. ‘Tab dil mein jo thandak padti hai, uske liye 5 saal dhakke khaate hain (the incredible pleasure we get from our rivals’ helplessness to help his own is why we work so hard at our politics).’
Please do not jump to the conclusion that it’s another anonymous story, because I promise to tell you who about my friend, close relation of a famous politician in India, bestowed with a very large following. Please bear with me, there is a twist in the end, that awaits my readers!
This conversation had taken place almost ten years ago. Much has happened since then, to build a large enough body of pieces of evidence, to teach us how right he was.
At this particular point, the Indian polity has the picture of P. Chidambaram in custody, on his way to be hosted at the Tihar jail. He and his son Karti are accused in the INX Media case, Bhupinder Singh Hooda and former treasurer of Congress Motilal Vora charge-sheeted at the age of 90, in the Associated Journals Ltd land allocation case, Kamal Nath under I-T probe, his nephew accused of receiving a bribe for the AgustaWestland helicopter purchase and arrested for bank loan fraud, Sonia, Rahul Gandhi and key aides under trial in the National Herald case, Karnataka Congress stalwart D.K. Shivakumar under ED’s scanner, and so on….
Compare this to the excitement shared around the region, when neighboring Pakistani media had released in increments, the names and details to two allegedly corrupt politicians— Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari!
In 2015, not long after the BJP came to power, a corruption case was filed against the Congress’ Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh, and his home was raided on the day of his second daughter’s wedding. He had to rush home from the wedding venue, and even cancel the celebratory lunch.
Praful Patel is living through frequent trysts with the ED on a bunch of cases; several of Mamata Banerjee’s party colleagues and loyal police officers all have ‘dates’ with the CBI they can’t exactly be enjoying.
Then, you can go back. Within two weeks of coming to power in the summer of 2001, Jayalalithaa had charged her predecessor M. Karunanidhi in 120 million rupees, ‘flyover scam’, had his home raided at midnight, and the dramatic visuals of the old man being hauled down the steps would still shake you up.
At various points of time, Lalu, Mulayam, and Mayawati were charged by CBI, ED or I-T, irrespective of who was in power, NDA or UPA. It is just that the cases waxed or waned depending on whether they were playing ball with the Centre or not. Please visit the archives of the weeks leading up to the no-confidence motion against the UPA on the nuclear deal.
The latest to join the group of these usual suspects is Raj Thackeray, now accused by the ED of allegedly having made fake deals and making Rs 20 crore out of the wreck called IL&FS.
Should you prefer to indulge in the forensics on each one of these cases, you will find a pattern. In each, the party now in trouble had done something similar, when it was in power, to the current incumbents.
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Amit Shah and Narendra Modi faced legal and criminal challenges for a decade, the former spending three months in custody on a ‘fake encounter’ and murder charge (cleared later). Please do note that Shah too, was pulled out when caught up in a child’s wedding.
One of the two judges who had ordered a CBI probe against Shah did so, two days before his retirement. He was facing a CBI probe in what was called the provident fund scam in Ghaziabad. The CBI cleared him soon enough, and then Akhilesh Yadav’s ‘secular’ government made him the chairman of UP’s state human rights commission. A wedding interrupted, a judge in a hurry two days before retirement, and a reward afterward. Sounds familiar now?
There is no point in getting into who threw the first rock. Because India is now caught in a grip of a vicious cycle. What used to happen in India’s states two decades ago—has promoted itself to the Centre. The BJP has only taken it to another level. First, by this triple weaponization of the agencies, a few TV channels, and social media. And second, by leaving the side-door open. To anybody willing to defect to it.
This is precisely what my host that evening had said. This was the pattern in our rougher, state politics. Badals versus Amarinder, Mulayam versus Mayawati, Jayalalithaa versus Karunanidhi, Devi Lal versus Bansi Lal versus Bhajan Lal. Now, this has come to New Delhi.
I am not about to break the commitment I made to you earlier, to tell you the name of the political stalwart who gave me that master class in the modern realpolitik of vengeance and sadistic joy. It was Om Prakash Chautala, then chief minister of Haryana and my conversation with his brother took place at Oakhurst, IL a glittering suburb of Chicago. And where is he now? Obviously…..in Tihar Jail!
He and his son are both serving ten-year sentences for corruption. Because their politics of vengeance caught up with them, as have the voters. In these Lok Sabha elections, their party, which had once won a majority in Haryana once, secured just over 1.8 percent votes.
Now, I do look forward to a fresh chat with my same acquaintance in Naperville, IL once comes out, to ask P Chidambaram what he thinks where politics is headed in India or Pakistan!