(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)
It was déjà vu all over again. Manmohan Singh staked the future of his government on a policy measure. A regional party with a government in Bengal threatened to withdraw support unless the decisions was rolled back and then went ahead and withdrew it when the government refused. And the government was bailed out by the Samajwadi Party. It felt like we had seen the same sequence of events take place before. Now I know how people who watch a Madhur Bhandarkar movie feel.
There was also a lot of fake tension in the air and the oft-repeated drum of ‘mid-term elections’ was being beaten again. Everybody knew there was no chance of that happening, but it didn’t stop them from pretending that it can. There was a smörgåsbord of disingenuity to choose from. Teevee channels cut into their heated discussions about who would form the new government to show various groups of politicians exiting from each other’s houses while the b-roll displayed animated graphics about how many seats each party had in the Lok Sabha. Well placed newspaper articles seemed more interested in the third-front than the political parties who would actually constitute it. The only person who they were able to convince was ‘tragedy king’ LK Advani, who thought that all his efforts of sending positive vibes into the universe so that it may one day grant him his one wish were finally coming to fruition.
After flailing about for the past few years, taking one hilariously stupid decision after another and throwing everything they could think of at the wall in the hope that something sticks, the Congress was finally able to deliver a genuine one-two political punch to its opponents. The BJP, as always, was more clueless about what to do than a blind, legless kangaroo trying to manoeuvre a four-wheel drive. They were so disoriented, they even asked for a special session of Parliament so that they could disrupt it again. After that didn’t work, they brought out another useless political weapon from their arsenal, the ‘Bharat bandh.’ Apparently, the BJP wanted to send a message that it cares so much for the common man that it is going to make life difficult for him to protest against the government making life difficult for him. Blocking the roads, making people late for work, getting passengers stuck in trains and at the station, bullying people into not earning their daily wages, breaking shop windows; being an asshole towards people for no logical reason is great political strategy. Even the BJP’s current Indira Gandhi & future LK Advani, Narendra Modi, got into the mix. He made jokes about how the government’s decision about FDI in retail had been taken to benefit Italian businessmen. This ‘joke’ would have been hilarious if not for the fact that there are currently no Italian ‘retail chains’ clamouring to get into India. In fact, Italy is not exactly known for its ‘retail giants.’ And really, the central government is getting heat about foreign investment from the guy who has logged more frequent flier miles than Amelia Earhart touting his state as an attractive destination for foreign investment? Maybe he should talk more about how much he hates foreigners and their dirty neo-colonial money at the next ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ summit.
The Congress & the TMC proved that they were no Ross & Rachel. Their ‘will they/won’t they’ tension was getting on everybody’s nerves. If Mamta Banerjee thought that the Congress would run to the airport singing “Please Don’t Go” to stop her from leaving like the last dozen times, she was mistaken. The Congress was sitting in its apartment, looking at photo albums of happier times, telling itself that it had to finally put an end to all the abuse. It could not spend its life with someone who treated it like a doormat.
Unfortunately, the Congress repeated past patterns by aligning itself with another high-maintenance regional ally, the Samajwadi Party. Its leader, Mulayam Singh Yadav told the press that even though he hates the Congress and thinks that it’s a blot on the face of humanity itself, he is still going to align with it because he wanted to keep ‘communal forces’ away from government. That familiar trope is always used by mortal enemies in Indian politics when they want to form governments together. Yeah, let’s get the old secular band back together again, for one more terrible performance. And who is more secular than the guy who claims to be an honorary 'Maulana’ so that everytime elections roll around he can patronisingly pander to the most fringe elements of a minority community?
Being made to witness the same things again and again. Now I know how people who watch a Madhur Bhandarkar movie feel.