By: Vir Sanghvi email@example.com
September 26, 2004
If you are reading this column on Sunday, September 26, then hold your breath. By the evening (or midnight, if you want to
be finicky) we will know whether the BJP’s entire political strategy over the last few months has been based on a cunning appreciation of the powerful forces of destiny. Or whether the knicker-wallahs of the Sangh Parivar have got it wrong — yet again.
The reason September 26 is so significant is because it was on this date that the government was supposed to fall.
No, I kid you not. The BJP — or at least, an influential section of the party and Parivar — believed the astrologers when they said that Manmohan Singh would not last in office and that
the day of reckoning would be September 26.
It began with Lachman Das Madan, publisher of the Babaji magazine. Now, I know Mr Madan. Ten years ago, he appeared twice on a TV programme that I used to host and on the second occasion, he faced an angry challenge from Sanal Edamaruku of the Rationalist Association. It is to Mr Madan’s credit that even though logic was on Sanal’s side, he more than held his own.
Later, Mr Madan was good enough to read my future. Though I am as rational as the next man (unless the next man
happens to be Praveen Togadia), I do believe — like most Indians — that there’s something to astrology. I don’t think it is a great science on par with physics or anything, but I don’t think it is all rubbish either.
And so, even though Mr Madan’s predictions about my progress over the decade after 1994 were not at all accurate (Sample: “You will go abroad and become as famous as David Frost.” I wish! ), I’m quite happy to accept that he’s got many things right about other people and has accurately predicted many events.
Before the last General Election, he predicted that neither A B Vajpayee nor Sonia Gandhi would become Prime Minister after the results were declared. The cheering in the shakhas became more subdued when he said that even L K Advani wouldn’t get the job.
Those who believe in Mr Madan’s predictions concluded that a Third Front government led by Mulayam Singh Yadav would take office (to cheering and celebrations in private planes and certain boardrooms).
To be fair, Mr Madan did not say that Manmohan Singh would get the job (but then, he never mentioned Mulayam by name either) but at a time when nearly every astrologer in the country had predicted Vajpayee’s return, Mr Madan got the general trend right.
Once the new government was sworn in, Mr Madan predicted that it would not last and that planetary movements around September 26 suggested that it would all go kaput.
Other astrologers — eager to make up for the fiasco of their election predictions — seized on the Madan thesis. Yes, yes, they chorused, this government will fall in September.
Faced with this barrage of predictions, any sensible man would have wondered about the planetary configurations that came into force on September 26.
But most of us would have said something like “look, all these other astrologers have got the election results wrong, so why should we listen to them now?” It would also have been right to point out that even Mr Madan did not a) predict a Congress victory or b) say that Manmohan Singh would be Prime Minister.
It is not my case that everybody in the BJP was willing to suspend disbelief and accept whatever the astrologers said. Vajpayee, for instance, has been known to tell people that there is no substance in the predictions about the BJP’s return to power.
And Advani has told visitors that he’s settling down to a long spell in opposition.
But then, say the True Believers, why should these old men have faith in the astrologers? After all, hasn’t Madan said that neither will be Prime Minister?
There were enough members of the Parivar who believed in the predictions to cause them to become the conventional wisdom within their camp. As it is, the BJP has yet to come to terms with defeat.
There was nothing it wanted to hear more than a prediction that went: don’t worry, this is not really a defeat — it is just a respite. You’ll be back in office soon.
And so, the BJP decided that it would not do any of the things that an opposition traditionally does. It would not give the new government a honeymoon period while it took stock of the defeat and used the time to rework its policies.
There would be no genuine introspection. (Consider why the party keeps vacillating between a we-are-a-secular-party and we-are-the-champions-of-Hindutva positions. It’s because nobody has bothered to seriously examine the causes of the defeat.)
The BJP would not be an opposition. It would be a government in exile. What would this achieve? Well, it didn’t really need to achieve anything. All it had to do was to jeer at this temporary government and wait for the forces of destiny to restore the Sangh Parivar to its rightful place as the chaddi-clad rulers of India.
Almost everything that the BJP has done over the last few months has followed from this basic, astrologically-inspired premise.
Discuss the budget? No way. It’s only a useless budget from a short-lived government. Show respect to the Prime Minister? No need. He’s just a stepney, a stop-gap. Allow Parliament to function? Absolutely not. There’s no reason to allow these Congress guys to act as though they are really the government. That role belongs to us and us alone.
There are problems with this approach, of course. Even those who believed in Mr Madan’s predictions were hard pressed to explain just how the government would fall. The numbers simply didn’t add up.
So, the BJP hoped that the Left would pull out. It didn’t. Then it hoped that by going on and on about tainted ministers, it could get the coalition to move against Laloo so he would pull out.
That didn’t happen. Then, it reckoned that a combination of promises and inducements could get the DMK to defect. But the DMK has a state election coming up and needs the Congress share of the vote in Tamil Nadu. So that failed too.
Then the strategy became Manmohan-focused. He’s a weak man, they said. He’s resigned twice when he was Finance Minister (the resignations were not accepted). If we keep the pressure on him, then he’ll give up and go home.
And so you’ve had the appalling misbehaviour in Parliament. The absurd claim that he was rude to George Fernandes. (Rude to George? Can anyone be ruder than Dynamite George himself, least of all Manmohan Singh?)
The personal abuse. (I think Yashwant Sinha has lost whatever stature he commended among educated Indians; and should now wash his mouth out with soap and water.) The complete refusal to co-operate on anything.
So far, at least, none of it has worked. And if by midnight this Sunday, the government has not fallen and Manmohan Singh is still Prime Minister, then, I suspect, the BJP will finally have to come to terms with the electoral defeat it never expected.
Unless, of course, Mr Madan tells them that the collapse has been postponed by another month. Given the BJP’s current mood — it will believe anything.
Published in Mid Day with
the Hindustan Times