It is highly unlikely that the sting operation against senior Trinamool Congress leaders would in any way hurt Mamata Banerjee’s chances of returning to power. Indian voters have long internalised the fact that politics and black money are Siamese twins, very hard to separate, if at all. Ideally, all those Trinamool leaders caught on video helping themselves to wads of currency notes ought to be ejected out of public life. Banerjee would still retain power. For she is not dependent on them. They are.
Besides, sidelining these worthies would also establish that the West Bengal Chief Minister and the Trinamool boss is no opportunist. Having quit the A.B. Vajpayee government following the entrapment of that Simple Simon BJP president, the late Bangaru Laxman, she could also burnish her image on the eve of the Assembly poll. And silence rivals who are now calling her names on the stump after her colleagues were exposed as bribe-takers in the sting operation.
However, it does seem that she has decided to brazen out the scandal.
In all likelihood, her response would have been entirely different if she wasn’t certain of victory. Her confidence in voters could have been gainfully used to punish the bribe-takers. Instead, she seeks to punish the very voters who, she is certain, are all set to return her to power. Ultimately, ordinary voters cannot escape responsibility for not making normative choices.
As for the sting operation, since everyone with a smartphone is a sleuth these days, it is surprising that the sting-operator was able to trap so many experienced leaders. Greed for easy money blinds one to simple precautions in this digital age. Anyway, there is something fishy about the sting and its operator as well. Why was it not released on the eve of the Lok Sabha poll when it was recorded in early 2014? Who are these nameless West Asia-based donors who allegedly gave nearly a crore of rupees for the sting? And why in Bengal, when, in all probability, the fishy sting-master and his nameless donors have their roots in Kerala? What are the links between the sting operator and the Trinamool Congress ex-member of the Rajya Sabha, the controversial businessman K.D. Singh? Singh was once close to Mamata, but lost her confidence around the time the sting was conducted. It is unlikely we will get answers to any of the above questions. The media has already moved on to the next big controversy. Pity. The media skims the surface of all that is rotten in the system without ever getting to the root of any of the various ills that afflict it. It is because the media itself is devoid of idealism, chasing profits to the exclusion of all else. For evidence witness how the latest avatar of Goebbels who heads the Delhi government has one of the largest media groups eating out of his hands.
The motto of the group being: Give ads and control news space.
NOT A BORE
There are two clear disruptors in Parliament: Rahul Gandhi’s foot soldiers inside the two Houses and Arun Jaitley outside. The Finance Minister plays the “disruptor” in the Central Hall of Parliament. Also known as the nation’s hall of gossips, not many will now recall that during the Emergency the entry of the media to the Central Hall was banned by a paranoid Indira Gandhi who believed that all rumours against her originated there.
You already know about the disruptive role of the Congress. Let us explain Jaitley’s. His coming to Central Hall invariably means that everyone leaves aside whatever he is doing, having tea or lunch, or engaged in a heated discussion with a fellow neta or a scribe, and rushes towards Jaitley. In double quick time, journalists, and most current and former MPs, take their seats all around him. Though he reveals nothing that the government does not want to reveal—remember he is also the Minister for Information and Broadcasting—his being such an engaging conversationalist, they all congregate next to him, lapping up every word he says, even as someone orders a round of hot coffee. Post-lunch, it is a daily drill whenever Parliament is in session.
On a lesser scale, another neta who likewise attracts journalists and Congress worthies whenever he chooses to put in an appearance in the Central Hall is Ahmad Patel. However, Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary is sought more for inside info he might dispense about the moves of the party rather than for his skills as a conversationalist. Ahmed Bhai, as everyone calls him, is a reticent man who says few words unless prodded.
On the other hand, Jaitley has all along been an accomplished raconteur. Even when he practised law, lawyers in the Delhi High Court canteen would pull their chairs to crowd around him, knowing he would have something interesting to tell on almost everything under the sun. Politicians are usually dull as ditchwater. One thing even his adversaries acknowledge, Jaitley is not a bore.
BJP president Amit Shah, relatively new to the national capital, performed credibly while responding to a volley of tough questions at a recent conclave of a media group. He fielded every question with confidence and at no stage did he seem to be at a loss for words.
However he revealed his pugnacious side while responding to a wiseass comment by now party-less Amar Singh. The former alter ego of Mulayam Singh Yadav, Amitabh Bachchan, Anil Ambani and many more wondered why Narendra Modi had accommodated Ram Vilas Paswan and Smriti Irani in his Cabinet, even though the two had been critical of his role in the 2002 Gujarat riots.
However, the mischievous smirk on Singh’s face vanished once Shah began to respond. Both Irani and Paswan had corrected themselves, but Singh would know that “even after you and Mulayam Singhjee were thrown out by Sonia Gandhi from the dinner she was hosting for the leaders of the newly-constituted UPA in 2004, you unhesitatingly continued to lend support to the UPA government for five years. It must have been most humiliating to be thrown out by the host when you landed as uninvited guests...” Or words to that effect. Singh was stunned, only offering a weak defence that he was taken there by the late CPI(M) leader Harkishan Singh Surjeet.
Given that Singh still looks frail after his kidney replacement operation a while ago in Singapore, and finds himself in the political wilderness despite Mulayam still harbouring a soft spot for the man who had first showed him the city lights, as it were, the BJP president ought not to have put him down so mercilessly.