Politics is the skilled use of blunt objects.
These prophetic words by a Canadian statesman truly capture the essence of the most horrific side of realpolitik. The struggle for power is real, and what goes around, indeed comes around. The only saving grace is that our world is a tad bit better than the one in the Mahabharata; for our modern democracy has not one but many guardians, and there is always hope that at least one functionary would perform the role of Vidura. This is not to say that there are no aberrations, but I am arguing on odds here. A cursory look around the subcontinent, and up until the Mediterranean Sea atleast, would reveal that we have done a lot better, and that in our land, the crossing of ‘Lakshman Rekha’ is far from the norm.
Shashi Tharoor, in The Great Indian Novel, has given an interesting account of India’s first tryst with realpolitik. It is, however, another matter that today, he and his colleagues conveniently suffer from selective amnesia. The Congress Party is crying foul; and refuses to take credit for introducing the dictum of ‘Sama, Dama, Danda, Bheda’ to its political, and intellectual rivals. Those who are finding fault with yesterday’s Order of the Hon’ble Delhi High Court, refusing anticipatory bail to Mr. P. Chidambaram, are conveniently forgetting that they infamously managed to get the Bofors scandal buried not once, but five times. Such is politics.
To my mind, the rules of the game are clear, consistent, and considering that they could have been a lot worse- bearable. You know you have truly arrived as a public figure, when you are made to undergo an ‘Agni Pariksha’. The one who commands it is usually the one who is closer to the power corridors. But it takes much more than a command, for the ‘Pariksha’ to reach its logical conclusion. It usually starts with a multi-agency investigation, and the allegations are then required to be proven in Trial. This is followed by a relentless pursuit of scrutiny: by the Constitutional Courts, by the media, by the voters, and by future Governments. History has shown that not only do political leaders survive false charges, but also come back stronger.
When charged by the CBI in the Hawala case, Mr. Lal Krishna Advani voluntarily resigned from the Lok Sabha, and vowed to never step foot in the People’s Parliament, until he was cleared of all charges. Two years later, in 1998, Supreme Court dismissed CBI’s Appeal, and Mr. Advani took oath as the Home Minister of India. But gone are the days when leaders took a call for ‘questioning’ and ‘investigation’ sportingly, and are now often found to be using political, and legal clout to engage in high-voltage drama.
For ten years between 2004- 2014, New Delhi ran a campaign to demonize, and punish the duo of Mr. Narendra Modi, and Mr. Amit Shah. That they survived each and every attack, and made their way from Ahmedabad to New Delhi is a testimony to the fact that they were either completely innocent, or very smart. Congress lawyers from Lutyens’ Delhi want the world to believe that Mr. Chidambaram is both. There is, in that case, no cause to worry- much less to flee, and even lesser to interrupt important Constitution Bench sittings to obtain a VIP hearing.
For the long term though, it wouldn’t hurt to have a better system in place. Public memory is said to be short. Why not make use of that by mandating time-bound, and Fast-track Trials for charge-sheeted political leaders? This would make the process leaner, cleaner, and meaner.
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