Losing an epic poll battle has its pitfalls, not least being evicted from plush government bungalows and deprived of the thrill of being mobbed by admirers. Once the battle is lost, the winner takes it all including the right to pursue rivals relentlessly by digging up cases and controversies which would have otherwise remained in obscurity. That perhaps sums up the political witchhunt if one may call it that is now happening in various states with top Congressmen like former finance minister P. Chidambaram and ex-Karnataka minister D.K. Shivakumar on the grill for executing alleged shady deals when they were in power. That the hounding of many more politicians from the opposition is on the cards in the coming days, became evident when the PM while summing up the fight against corruption at a recent poll rally in Jharkhand, remarked, “Puri film toh abhi baaki hai."
The coming Assembly polls in Maharashtra, Haryana and other states where the saffron winds are blowing strong, will only serve to further strengthen the Modi-Shah juggernaut. Even Kerala where shrewd attempts are being made to cultivate a pro-BJP sentiment albeit by installing a Muslim governor, is the object of saffron overtures. Which brings up the pertinent question: could the fate of these opposition politicians, many of them resourceful administrators in their own right, have been different if they had toed the BJP line and given in like Mukul Roy in Bengal and trumpeted the saffron cause? Vinay Madhav, Rabindra Nath Choudhury, Prasad Patil, and John Mary Joseph examine the plight of opposition politicians as pro-Hindutva sentiments are at an all-time high and the powers that be at the Centre, given its overwhelming mandate can bring any high and mighty politician to his knees.
Not the most liked of politicians yet indispensable, that's what make Congress trouble-shooter D.K. Shivakumar, now in the custody of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in Delhi, such a formidable force in Karnataka politics - and the target of BJP ire.
This is not the first time Shivakumar has been in the eye of a storm. He has had his share of squabbles with his colleagues in the Congress as well as BJP and was involved in a three-decade long feud with JD(S) supremo H.D. Deve Gowda and his family members, before joining hands with them a year ago after the Congress and JD(S) formed a coalition government.
After the exit of Vokkaliga titan and former external affairs minister S.M. Krishna from the Congress, Shivakumar has become the undisputed leader of the community within the Congress. He proved his mettle by successfully fighting two powerful Vokkaliga leaders in his home district, Ramanagara - H.D. Kumaraswamy of the JD(S) and C.P. Yogeshwar of the BJP. Making known his strategising abilities, Shivakumar entered into a truce with the Gowda family and ensured that Yogeshwar was defeated in a bypoll.
What has made Shivakumar’s ascent in Congress politics meteoric is the dependence of party leaders in Delhi on him during a crisis though it has also earned him enough enemies in the Congress - and the BJP.
The strategy he adopted to rise in the party hierarchy has proved a double -edged sword. While other leaders engaged in hectic lobbying for prestigious party posts, Shivakumar delivered what the party wanted and simply waited for his time for an elevation, which made him a trusted associate of the Congress top brass in Delhi, - and the reason that he is now caught in the cross-hairs.
The situation he now finds himself in, may have had a lot to do with the
BJP attempting to break into the Vokkaliga vote bank by wooing Shivakumar -who had repeatedly turned down attempts to bring him into the saffron fold- and send ripples across the Vokkaliga vote bank of the Congress but more importantly, it was to deprive the party of its most powerful trouble-shooter, and expose the beneficiaries of his bankrolling of the party.
Vokkaliga politics? That's just one small part of the game.
Khan for Kerala Guv...
& a Tharoor in the bag?
Further south, just across the border, with the appointment of Mr Arif Mohammed Khan as Kerala Governor, the BJP has sent out another powerful political message. Instead of depending on intermediaries, the BJP has chosen to directly appeal to the Muslim community through a progressive Muslim in Raj Bhavan. If the Congress and the Left parties have used the clergy to befriend the community, the BJP trusts Mr Khan - prime mover in another era on the law against triple talaq - to strike a chord with women and progressive sections among Muslims. The game plan is clear: the BJP would work towards building bridges with the GenNext in the community.
The smooth Mr Khan is best suited for this. On September 6, soon after the swearing-in, he broke convention and lunched with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan at his residence, Cliff House, along with Chief Justice Rishikesh Roy. It is this persona that would appeal to the reform-minded within the community; a Governor equally accommodative towards the Left. This critical constituency is what the BJP has in mind, while on the other side of the fence, it has assiduously cultivated the majoritarian agenda, notching up 36 percent of the Hindu majority’s electoral backing.
Says Prof. P.K. Yasser Arafath of the University of Delhi: “Results of 2019 general election show a tremendous inclination among the majority of voters to adopt the social, moralistic, and ideological sensibilities of Hindutva. The BJP-led NDA secured around 32 lakh votes from this (Hindu majority) constituency of voters (over 1.11 crore), who comprised about 50 per cent of the total polled votes (around 2.3 crore).
He said the Sangh Parivar would able to garner about 50 per cent of the majority electorate in the next 10 years. Citing a survey by Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, he said NDA had secured more than 38 per cent of the upper caste vote in Kerala in 2019.
“An undivided 50 per cent from the majority electorate would definitely help Hindutva make strong electoral inroads into Kerala as it happened in West Bengal”, said Prof Yasser Arafath.
A gameplan that will be overseen by the master strategist in Raj Bhavan, that may or may not target the high profile and highly vocal MP from Thiruvanthapuram, Shashi Tharoor who is facing tough questions on his wife Sunanda Pushkar's death. His charm and his way with words, ensures the upper caste vote, a vote that the BJP has long eyed. With a Tharoor in
the bag, there's no saying if the vote will shift with him.
In MP, Kamal bloom & a Nath fall?
The Karnataka m.o. that returned BJP to power in the south Indian state following collapse of the JD (S)-Congress coalition government is being replayed in Madhya Pradesh. The ‘fratricidal war’ witnessed in the ruling Congress in MP threatens to rock the Kamal Nath government where a fresh bout of shadow boxing between the two traditional rivals in the party, Mr Singh and scion of erstwhile Gwalior royal family Jyotiraditya Scindia, threatens to split the Congress Legislature Party (CLP).
Mr Scindia who has been sulking ever since he lost the race for post of chief minister to Kamal Nath when Congress returned to power in MP after a gap of 15 years, hit a brick wall after he lost the last Lok Sabha elections from Guna in MP, considered his family bastion, still commands the support of at least two dozen Congress MLAs.
Nobody was surprised when reports began making the rounds that the BJP is wooing Mr Scindia to topple the Kamal Nath government. With its wafer-thin majority in the MP assembly with Congress having strength of 114 in the 230-member House with four Independents, two BSP MLAs and one SP legislator providing outside support against the BJP's 108 MLAs, Kamal Nath's government is vulnerable.
Scindia has ruled out the possibility but with Kamal Nath himself under pressure following recent raids by Income Tax (IT) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) sleuths in the houses of his private staff members and family members in connection with alleged tax evasion and money laundering cases, the Congress' fallback option - Scindia - could also be affected. With the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) ordering the reopening of a 1984 anti-Sikh riot case against Mr Nath following a complaint lodged by a member of SAD, the game of destabilization appears to be in fully play.
In Maharashtra, ending Thackeray’s Raj
In BJP-held poll-bound Maharashtra, despite the result seemingly a foregone conclusion with the opposition Congress and NCP in tatters, there's one man who has already paid a price - Raj Thackeray, the biggest crowd puller among Opposition leaders, even though his party did not contest the Lok Sabha election.
All that remains to be confirmed is whether the BJP and Shiv Sena will forge an alliance or not and who in the opposition will be trampled under the saffron surge. With Prakash Ambedkar’s Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) enjoying limited strength, the Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray is the only capable challenger to the BJP juggernaut in Maharashtra. But reliable sources say chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and Mr Thackeray want an alliance, even as the major ‘recruitment drive’ undertaken by both parties targets the opposition ranks, and the one man who had torn into both Fadnavis and PM Modi goes quiet. In fact, it was NCP leader Ajit Pawar who pointed to Raj’s silence ever since he was quizzed by the Enforcement Directorate in connection with the IL&FS scam. “See how much Raj was talking at the time of the Lok Sabha election. But after he was questioned by the ED, he has hardly spoken,” he said.
The Chidambaram rahasya
While everyone has linked former finance and home minister P. Chidambaram’s incarceration by the Enforcement Directorate as alleged payback for the nine hour grilling that Prime Minister Narendra Modi faced over Godhra, and Home Minister Amit Shah being jailed when Palaniappan Chidambaram was calling the shots in North Block, a long running feud between two men, both from Tamil Nadu, both lawyers could be the other factor.
Either way, Chidambaram does not have the electoral impact that say a M.K. Karunanidhi or a Jayalalitha - or their respective political heirs - would have. But that's not what drives Subramaniam Swamy, once Lok Sabha MP from Mumbai in his running feud with Chidambaram, who was once, like him, fresh off the Harvard boat. Teacher and pupil. Except, much to PC's chagrin, the teacher, refused to even acknowledge the pupil when they met.
The animosity deepened when in 1984, despite Chidambaram becoming, minister of state for home, one of the young stars in Rajiv Gandhi’s cabinet, it was the Morarji Desai protégé who wheedled his way into the young prime minister’s sanctum sanctorum. PC soon became the main force behind the Rajiv led Congress withdrawing support to the Chandrasekhar government in which Swamy served as Commerce Minister.
There were other pin-pricks. Swamy coming in as chairman of GATT with cabinet rank when PC was minister of state for commerce in Narasimha Rao’s government; In 1996, PC as Finance Minister in Mr H.D. Deve Gowda's government preparing to arrest Swamy, who headed a trust run by godman Chandraswamy that was being probed for FERA violations, only for Deve Gowda – Swamy’s Janata Party colleague - reportedly cancelling the warrant; Swamy, looking for way to settle scores, investigating an investment subsidiary called Fairgrowth, and the alleged massive fraud in the allocation of 2G spectrum.
It was only when Swamy, looked into the various FIPB clearances given to Aircel Maxis when Mr Chidambaram was Finance Minister in the UPA government , that he believed he was on to something. Mr Swamy traced the shell companies into which money was being deposited. He said the " easiest" company to investigate was INX, "because there the original clearance was for Rs 5 crore. Then without informing anybody, this Mukherjea couple brought in Rs 305 crore and the Income Tax got wind of it….”
“They were given a notice and these people went running back to Chidambaram. Chidambaram then backdated the FIPB clearance, and where it was written 5, he put 30 in front of it and it became 305. And they got caught in that. The good thing in all this from our point of view is that Indrani has agreed to become an approver...” Swamy says in an interview.
Swamy claims he has “nothing against Chidambaram personally” that he “hardly knew him”, but admits he was well aware of the number of times "the very incompetent fellow ” tried to arrest him and failed.
As Swamy says to the interviewer: “At that time I had said—now it’s my turn. And I got my turn.”
Either way, it’s the price these men pay - for being on the wrong side of the political fence. Or history.