Wishing V.P.Singh a long life!

V.P.Singh turned 75 and we wish the former Prime Minister a long life. Though much is made of his recent political pronouncements, and New Delhi politics now revolves around certain key personalities like Vajpayee and Sonia Gandhi, V.P.Singh makes his role for the current political scenario relevant by his recent moves to resurrect himself, his persona is such value more for non-Congress political rallying points than of much help to the Congress as such. Considering the rather low-key political visions one can associate with Vajpayee and other senior politicians on the New Delhi horizon, V.P.Singhs stands out as a more complete political and cultivated personality.

I had become an intense follower of him briefly! And that was a time in Indian politics worth recalling and worth commenting about.

It was a phase of evolution of Indian politics, from dynastic politics to more democratic politics when V.V.Singh replaced Rajiv Gandhi and VP saga started the way our politics evolved in New Delhi. We saw new faces emerge as Prime Ministers and also the two high offices, of the President of India and the Prime Minister of India also acquired new meanings and a new maturity.

I had been a frequent visitor to Delhi those days and was also active in politics in some ways and that was the time when Rajiv Gandhi came to power in a way that was much criticized for the blatant way in which the then President  of India used his powers, in the opinion of many, in a Constitutional manner. But in politics many things happen and many things are justified in power politics on so many immoral grounds and this instance of Rajiv Gandhi” made “Prime Minister was one such case. Once you “install” a person in power, then the person acquires some imagined importance in the eyes of his or her followers and the media builds up many images and also advances many arguments for justifying such “occupation” of offices.

Now, as for me, I want to recall those days. I had just then had come back to India after a tour of England and Europe where I took my school-leaving son on a trip to familiarize him with Oxford and Cambridge with an intention of sending him there. We visited England first, where we stayed with our old hosts and hostesses and then traveled to France and Germany where also I had my old Oxford-time friends. Mrs.Beate and her family in Germany gave us so much warmth and hospitality, Beate was with me at Oxford in the late Sixties and as such I felt at home with my old friend and her family. For my son, just not yet 16,it was a wonderful exposure and it was when we were discussing the admissions to Oxbridge colleges with the lady admissions officer at Trinity College, Cambridge, the idea of admitting Kartik, my son, occurred to me. That was one reason that we, our family found ourselves in New Delhi when V.P.Singh was elected as the Prime Minister of the Janata Dal party which had won the elections which displaced Rajiv Gandhi who won with an unprecedented majority just four years ago.

I was a Congressman throughout and yet I was inclined to admire V.P.Singh who broke away with Rajiv Gandhi. Why? Why I did so? There were many reasons and one was that the Congress party had fallen on bad days; the high moral ground promised by Rajiv Gandhi was lost through a series of blunders made, if not by him directly, by those who surrounded themselves around Rajiv Gandhi or Rajiv Gandhi himself with his immaturity made such things happen around him.

1975 and Emergency

Also, there were so many other long standing reasons. One has to trace such events from the Emergency days. On the very day when Emergency was declared in 1975, I was very much in New Delhi, in fact, I was coming down from a book publishing house in Connaught Place and it was 11 in the morning, and one newspaper boy cried out “Morning edition, Emergency declared!” I bought that Statesman edition and read that just then Jagjivan Ram resigned.

Such days are now history and yet, as Kuldeep Nayar, the veteran journalist of the Emergency days, in fact a victim, writes now that the present UPA government has six tainted ministers of the Emergency regime and they must be removed! Also, there are articles by other veterans like Inder Malhotra who recall those days and remind us how the Congress lost monopoly of power at the Centre and how the present coalition of parties evolved.

So, when V.P.Singh became Prime Minister on the promise of cleaning the large scale corruption under Rajiv regime, he was first finance minister, then defense, the submarine, and then the Bofors corruption scandals made daily news then! So, all the traditional Congressmen, all the old style believers in certain political values, were naturally, started drifting from the Congress. So, history won’t easily dismiss or help us forget the great men and women of the idealistic days, starting with Kamaraj, Atulya Ghosh and Morarji Desai and others with whom I had the privilege to serve, at the AICC in the 1967 days of the General Elections when Indira Gandhi was very much the Prime Minister and the rift was yet to come in the open!

So, those of us, the younger generation too felt first elated, then felt uncomfortable as more of Indira Gandhi becoming a victim to her own insecurities and that led to Sanjay Gandhi causing so much havoc. So, Indira Gandhi adopted so many indefensible methods. To cut the story short, there soon emerged  two types of Congressmen, one plain time servers, those who sought jobs under one pretext or other under Mrs.Gandhi and those  who got perplexed at the  swift turn of events and those who sought for some principled action, men like Jayaprakash Narayan, Morarji Desai and Kamaraj and Acharya Kripalani. The list is long and varied.

1989 saw a new non-Congress idealism in Indian politics.

So, when V.P.Singh assumed office there was a new and sudden surge of new-found idealism in politics.

So, I found myself along with my family one early morning at the house of V.P.Singh at Lodi Estate to greet him, who had just then entered the place. So, the shamiana was not yet in place, the security was scanty; the very crowd was mixed, from plain common people to political ideologues and activists drawn from various political streams. When my turn came I greeted Singh enthusiastically and yet I found some urge and time to ask him to his face: “You have our moral support fully but then why did you align with such forces like……”.I had Tamil Nadu in mind. He uttered something which I couldn’t catch and the crowd was surging and he had to move on. He seemed to be saying that he had to cobble together such contradictory forces just to make a winning combination. Fine! That is how practical politics, power politics is made and also justified.

So, Singh represented for me at that point of time the very alternative ideals to the Congress ideals once represented as under Nehru. But alas! The Janata Dal was not to prove its credentials and it was no mistake of Singh but it is a result of the peculiar mindset of the Indian politicians, and that too the non-Congress politicians who were driven, as even now, more by personal ambitions, than by any national ideals or visions.

So, V.P.Singh had to resort to the Mandal Commission report and that undid him. Rajiv Gandhi also met with a tragic end and the very Indian politics changed its very contours.

BJP’s new stature started at this point

Now, I read in the birthday bash in Delhi there were so many new messages. In his just released autobiography, Manzil Se Jyada Safar, he says many things that are currently relevant and had also drawn flakes from the BJP. Singh supports Sonia Gandhi’s “sacrifice” and also created controversies about his role in the Bofors corruption scandal, though he didn’t finally succeed in exposing the persons, he promised he would.

Now, the future of the politics in the country?

Singh seem to have gathered around him another set of forces that could emerge as a Third Front, an alternative to the UPA or just a mirage? No one can say. The pity is that the politics as played by the Congress or the Left or the Opposition parties is no politics of any principles; it is all politics of sheer unprincipled opportunism. So, the country could face many threats to its internal as well as to its external power balances. So, Singh’s birthday function should not give room for destructive politics of any sort.

There must be deeper introspection on the part of senior leaders like V.P.Singh, Vajpayee and even the senior Congress leaders. Not the least important is the role of the Left in helping India evolves into a more stable economy, strong economy, a more equal society and a more clear-sighted regional power in international affairs.

The educated new generation of the youth must be inspired to develop a new kind of patriotism, a love for the country’s past, past glories and its past dark patches. A country’s political belief systems evolve. It doesn’t come easily from nowhere. Certain political traditions remain generation after generation.

Office of President and Prime Minister

So, certain time-tested, some widely debated intelligent ways of doing politics have to be adhered. Seen in this background the Office of the President of India, the Office of the Prime Minister  of India, Parliament, Supreme Court, Press Freedom, the very state of our Public Opinion, the role of intellectuals, opinion makers and such numerous visible and invisible institutions and forces matter a great deal.

Presidents of Indian too gave new heights of fame, as under K.R.Narayanan. Now, Dr.Singh represents a new phase in the evolution of the PM office, not the formal office but the personality of the Prime Minister. As an intellectual, I like the put forward the view that increasingly, it seems, the two high offices are getting sucked into the class structure of our society, namely, even such high Constitutional offices are likely to be sucked into the peculiar bureaucratic class of our society? Is this a positive or negative development? Indian opinion makers have to give deeper thought.

Party Presidents

Much more important development lately seems to the political parties and their leaders. Political parties are not governed by any Constitutional obligations. So, large scale corruption in party funds to other corruptions have tarnished the image of   the political class as utterly a class of illiterates, unaccountable and prone to anti-democratic behavior, with all its detriment to higher values, like human rights, individual freedoms and the very sense of bonding with the nation, a sense of patriotism, and a sense of being Indian, an Indian citizen in this fast changing, globalised world, a world where loyalties are rated low and when we need a more mature sense of political behavior.

Seen in this wider perspective certain disquieting trends have to be noted and shared widely among the thinking sections. First, there is no truly genuine party structure, no inner party structures, the Congress party has no inner party structure, all are nominated, and even the Party President is “elected” without even token context. All the PCCs are nominated. All PCC Presidents operate on a day to day assignment!

So, too the nominations to Cabinet and the Rajya Sabha lack credibility. Now the office of profit issue might trigger a new Constitutional crisis. Thus, the elected elements in the governance mechanism are weak to the point of being no political legitimacy. Political morality test ultimately wins. So many instances we can cite. We have to adhere to certain political norms, we have to ensure there is political and Constitutional legitimacy for many of the things we do in the name of a leader or an individual.

Anyway, when we recall the days that marked the evolution of politics in the country since the days of Indira Gandhi to Sonia Gandhi, we can’t but remind ourselves that ultimately, it is political legitimacy that people would vote for and not for the manipulations that mark our present day politics. So, the question of politics of principles vs. the politics of unprincipled conduct would be always with us and would haunt the political space in the country.

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