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Poll Smut

Sycophants have raised him to the stature of a Shakespeare, but the language that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is using in his campaign tours in the on-going assembly elections in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, where his ally the Akali Dal and his own party are losing their confidence and their vote percentage with equal speed, have shown the great man to have feet of clay, and a tongue as foul as that of Sadhvi Rithambara, says John Dayal

Pandit Ravi Shankar (centre) releasing Samvedna, a music album of Vajpayee’s poetry, recited by Jagjit Singh (far right)

It is a moot question if contempt of court has been committed. Last year, dismissing a writ, the courts had ruled that Sonia Gandhi was an Indian citizen by virtue of having made an application for citizenship in the Nineteen Eighties and having been duly granted citizenship of the Republic of India by duly constituted authority. 

To quote the Pioneer newspaper, one of India’s oldest English language dailies -- which had as its war correspondent the budding politician and later British Prime Minister Winston Churchill – and is very well disposed towards the Bharatiya Janata party, on 6th February 2002 during a campaign speech in Pathankot “Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee told a well attended and responsive crowd (in Hindi) Main Soniaji ka samman karta hoon. Veih Mahila hein. Videshi mahila hein. Aur Veh jaisa bhashan karti hain, main apna maatha thok leta hoon”. Pioneer’s correspondent translated Vajpayee’s Hindi as “I respect Sonia. She is a foreigner lady. But her speeches fill me with despair”. The correspondent missed out on the nuances. What Vajpayee did say was far more pungent. He was commenting on Sonia’s Italian origins, her accent… and implying even more.

Former Lok Sabha speaker PA Sangma, who once thought he was Prime Minister material and turned against Sonia when he found that a speaker with a sense of humour and a larger sense of his own importance would not automatically get the political support of his party and of other groups, has made a laughing stock of himself in Indian politics with his one man campaign against `Foreigner Sonia”, still maintaining that the issue, dismissed by the election commission and by the electorate, still guides his Nationalist Congress Party. But Sangma may be dismissed as a loner, a maverick in the political firmament. Atal Behari Vajpayee as the reigning Prime Minister and leader of the ruling coalition is another cup of tea, if one may put it this way. And it leaves a very bitter taste in the mouth even of those who are slowly getting less and less disgusted by the fecal matter that floats in the Indian political sea.

The Prime Minister errs on many counts of fan. Compared to certain politicians who shouted “Ek dhakka aur (one more push) as hoodlums of the Sangh Parivar demolished the Babri Mosque, or those who exhorted the Sangh men to show their virility by smashing other places of worship, Sonia certainly is very much a lady. And her language in the campaign, sharp in political rhetoric but maintaining a decorum of discourse that is considerate towards those senior in age and rank, can hardly be faulted. But under law, she is no foreigner. Of foreign origin, certainly, for no one can disown, or erase, either parentage, or ethnic roots and place of birth. Those elements are not of one’s choosing. But after signing documentation of citizenship – and getting her name in the electoral rolls over two decades, she is as much an Indian as Mr. Vajpayee, or for that matter, the Karachi-born Mr. Lal Krishna Advani, currently India’s minister for home affairs. It is for this reason that the Delhi born Pervez Musharraf is not contesting the Indian elections but has to be content with his citizenship as a Pakistani and his position as the President of Pakistan. That is the difference between origin and citizenship. And surely Mr. Vajpayee knows it.

But he was not making a position of fact. Stung to the quick with the indefensible racket of the military coffins, he had to counter the attack. Pathankot, as the doorway to the extreme northwestern sector, almost wrung the pungent statement out of the man who should have taken care to speak like a statesman that many want him to be.

Vajpayee’s apology the next day has not made worthwhile amends. If anything, it has aggravated the situation. The Prime Minister insists he meant no disrespect to her and his criticism, to quote the report in the respectable and dependable newspaper The Hindu, was “political and not personal. “In referring to Ms Sonia Gandhi as a videshi in my speech, I meant no disrespect to her. On the contrary, my personal references to her were respectful.” If these be words of respect, we sincerely hope we are within earshot when the Prime Minister is speaking about persons to whom he does not want to show respect.

The Congress surely has pulled down the Prime Minister from the high moral ground that he so desperately wants to hold, and to which his spin-doctors and speechwriters try so hard to keep him rooted. Mercifully, so far the Congress has not stooped to the same level. No irrepressive Congressman has mocked Vajpayee’s heavily accented English, his long pauses, and his theatrics. 

The tragedy is that Mr. Vajpayee has slipped in trying to defend people and parties he should well have left to their own devices. Defence minister George Fernandes and his Samta party will eventually pay the price they must for their role not only in initially washing the communal and neo fascist Sangh Parivar of its blood stained escutcheon. The scams in the Defence ministry, even apart from the misdemeanors and criminal lapses as shown in the Kargil security debacle on 2000, have been more than topped by the profiteering in the purchase of air tight coffins to transport home the bodies of all those young warriors, the teen aged jawans and twenty four year old lieutenants who die alternate days on the ice of the Siachin glacier.

The Akali Dal, still ruling in Punjab, makes for even a more weak candidate for his loyal support. Reducing Punjab to India’s one and only theocratic state with its complicated relationship with the religious clergy, the Akali Dal’s has been a saga of misrule, cronyism, crime and nepotism. Mr. Prakash Singh Badal, the chief minister, dotes on his progeny and is willing to pay the price for his passion. His party candidates include the standard set of thugs and crooks, and also includes a woman who once was almost a high priestess or at least the chair of the congregation, and is today an accused in the murder of her own pregnant daughter who married outside the faith, for love. The party, controlled by the richest landlords in Punjab, is among the richest in the country, partly because its leadership conveniently pays no tax on their vast agricultural income. 

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