Monday, May 26, 2008

Enemy’s enemy as friend

IS THE Congress-Samajwadi Party thaw for real? Or are we reading too much into the invitation to the SP to attend the UPA’s fourth anniversary dinner? After all, the invite had al so gone to Mayawati, common political enemy to both Sonia Gandhi and Mulayam Singh Yadav, but trust the haughty Mayawati to turn down the invitation. It was four years ago that Amar Singh last dined with the Congress, when he went there as a guest of HKS Surjeet who was a guest. But last week, Singh went holding his own card which in the present political climate, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh felt compelled to send. Amar Singh walked in nearly 40 minutes late and joined one of the rear tables, but soon, the PM walked up to him and engaged him in a long conversation. The seating arrangements were a reflection of the
UPA’s work division. The PM was joined by Sharad Pawar, Lalu Prasad Yadav and others while Gandhi, the UPA’s pointperson for dealings with allies, had Prakash and Brinda Karat, Sitaram Yechury, Baalu and ministers from regional parties for company.My feeling is that while the Congress-SP relations will never blossom, there will be a working relationship aimed at keeping the BSP in check and ensuring the dynasties are not dented. So, Mulayam will not field candidates at Rae Bareily and Amethi where Yadav votes could cut into the majorities of Sonia and Rahul while the Congress is expected to reciprocate for Mulayam and son Akilesh in their constituencies. The old saying holds true: no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests.

Empress Jaya’s makeover

IT’S NOT known if the event was a one off but my instincts tell me the imperious Jayalalithaa is shedding her magisterial self and doing a makeover with an eye on dividends in the not too distant future. There was atime when you only spotted her flashing by in her SUV, the Black Cats of the National Security Guards ensuring that no one came within astone’s throw. Suddenly, it’s adifferent Jayalalithaa that’s on view now, mixing with the hoi polloi —even dancing with them. Which is what she did last week in the Nilgiri Hills where she went to offer prayers at atemple in interior Kodanad and was received with honours befitting adeity. When the tribal Badaga women performed a local dance for her, she decided to join them and do ajig herself. More votes in the kitty, no doubt. Meanwhile, over at Annai Arivalayam, the headquarters of the DMK, the mood is truly sombre, made worse by patriarch M Karunanidhi’s decision not to celebrate his 85th birthday which falls on June 3. He attributed the decision to, among other things, the hold up on the Sethusamudram project and the betrayal by allies. Now Tamil Nadu is the kind of place where aleader’s birthday is celebrated with more pomp and grandeur than aroyal wedding, so the CM’s decision has sent party men into deep depression. DMK leaders and those from allies issued public appeals and what leader worth his salt can remain insensitive to the emotions of his subjects? He has now relented and the celebrations will be on. As he wrote in his weekly column: “Iwill take delight amidst my worries”. Don’t Worry, Be Happy. Happy Birthday Kalaignar!!!

EC bark has no bite

ANOTHER election is over but this column is not about winners and losers. It is about the match officials, the Election Commissioners whose unenviable job it is to see that not only are elections held but that they are free and fair. Admittedly, the EC has done adecent job in Karnataka, as indeed it has been doing from the time the ferocious TN Seshan was appointed Election Commissioner and was granted the autonomy that none of his predecessors enjoyed. But all good things must pass and even Seshan, aRottweiler among bureaucrats, was eventually tamed by the political class he set out to tame. Others came, most notably MS Gill, Lyndoh, and began by wielding the stick before deciding to put it away. Moral of story: when threatened, politicians sink their differences, close ranks and unite against acommon foe. The politicians’ task is made easier when the EC is amulti- member commission as it is now, comprising officers with brittle egos. To make matters worse, for the first time the Chief Election Commissioner, NGopalaswami, and ECs Navin Chawla and SY Quraishi are all from the IAS, which means the tussle has been on for quite a while. As of now, their varying ideological commitments mean they travel together, not out of camaraderie but to keep awatch on each other. Wherever they travel, the local administration is put to test, since it is their job to make separate arrangements for the three, all of whom carry the rank of aSupreme Court Judge. Poor locals cannot be faulted if they mistake the cavalcade of cars as belonging to afilm star out on ashoot in their remote hamlet. Politicians know their differences and that explains why the EC is now known more for its bark than its bite. In the last one year, the EC has slapped notices on at least 90 politicians for alleged violation of the code of conduct. They include Sonia Gandhi (Maut ka Saudagar remark) Narendra Modi (create mutual hatred between communities), Vir Bhadra Singh (using government vehicles with beacon lights), YSR Reddy (offering sops). Last week, yet another one was slapped on Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal for using government transport during his poll campaign in the last elections. Iam still to hear about even one of them being given even atoken punishment. Some like Badal get away by agreeing to reimburse the costs to the government, but how do you quantify the penalty for say, the “Maut ka Saudagar” remark, or Modi’s alleged communal appeals? Annulling their elections is apointless exercise since Sonia and Modi won’t even have to step out to campaign to get re- elected. So even if punishments aren’t handed out, it must be seen to be handed out. Therefore, the EC handed out a “displeasure” notice to Sonia last year while Modi was “severely strictured”. Crime but no punishment. The politicians know this and campaign in the manner they want to. Free and fair elections? You bet the voters are laughing.