Politics of sympathy

When the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, J. Jayalalithaa, came calling to Delhi, she taught everyone in Delhi a lesson or two in politics. She met Sheila Dikshit, smiled, posed for pictures and then fired a few missiles. One was aimed at the DMK which is already ailing from multiple diseases — Ms Jayalalithaa demanded the resignation of textiles minister Dayanidhi Maran

over allegations of a quid pro quo in allocating spectrum to Aircel. Her second missile was for the Union home minister as she sought Mr Chidambaram’s resignation, accusing him of securing a fraudulent victory in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.
While Mr Chidambaram has hit back, saying Ms Jayalalithaa’s statement was “gross contempt of court”, little does he realise that in politics smart legal arguments have limited value. What’s important is that Ms Jayalalithaa has raked up a forgotten issue that will get wide media coverage. She also raised a question: Should an important decision, like the election of the home minister, remain pending for two years?
I remember, in the 1980s, when Ms Jayalalithaa became a Rajya Sabha member, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi thought very highly of her. We all knew that with time she would become the leader that she is today. Despite her highs and lows over two decades, the fact is that Ms Jayalalithaa’s relevance today is beyond Tamil Nadu.
Three women chief ministers — Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh, Ms Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu and Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal — will influence the trends for the 2014 general elections. Three of them together have the potential of winning 100 Lok Sabha seats. Ms Banerjee will spread her wings in the Northeast and is capable of securing 30 seats. Ms Jayalalithaa should also get about 30 and Ms Mayawati is likely to win 30-35 seats out of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in the state.

IT HAS been reported that yoga guru Baba Ramdev needs to take rest for four-five days to recuperate from his fast that was broken by lemonade and honey on June 12. Many Indians fast for days, surviving only on liquids without any ill effects. Yogis who are used to long spells of deep meditation in harsh climates can go without food for weeks, even months.
But I am not surprised at the rather delicate constitution of Baba Ramdev. It’s also true that he would not have taken any chances — he is hardly going to hand over his financial empire to his disciples to sit on an indefinite anshan. I just hope that before his next public fast he declares his real assets, otherwise he will be assisted in the declaration by the Enforcement Directorate and the income tax department.
The media and many private investigators are already on the job. Ramdev boards silvery jets for domestic travel, has Rolls Royce, an Island in Scotland, an estate in Texas, and 34 private companies. His ashram charges for everything — from Ramdev’s blessings to night stay. Is this the normal existence of a spiritual guru or is this a ready case for scrutiny for all those battling black money?
The Ramdev soap opera goes on with celebrity spiritual leaders and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh along with the Bharatiya Janata Party trying to create a sympathy syndrome.
But sympathy should lie elsewhere. The death of Nigamananda — a 35-year-old swami — who had been fasting for almost four months to protest illegal mining and stone crushing along the Ganga near Hardwar is tragic. I believe Uma Bharti had also joined his fast for four or five days but was persuaded by the Sangh Parivar and Uttarakhand chief minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank to stop. Ms Bharti did give up her fast but the young Nigamananda continued and perished in anonymity. Despite being in the same hospital as Ramdev, neither the political fraternity nor any spiritual leaders had any time for him. Sadly, even amongst spiritual leaders, the VIP-aam aadmi syndrome exists.
While Ramdev will continue agitating on black money, almost everyone is aware that his huge business empire is worth thousands of crores but no one is certain of the colour of his money. Black money stashed abroad or black money stored in India need the same treatment and we should thank Baba Ramdev and his excessive tax-free assets for driving this point home. Any action on Ramdev’s demand for recovery of black money must start with him and his shady aides who have secured false passports and gun licences.
Let’s not trivialise the issue of black money. I think before anything is done we should find a way to achieve total transparency in political collections and withdraw tax exemptions to religious trusts except under very close scrutiny of the home ministry.
All political parties and tax experts know the complexities involved in offshore accounts and no Central government in the last two decades (every party has been in power or an ally) has been able to achieve anything. It is easy to trade charges and score political points in public meetings, but that will not yield anything.
The government already has many committees in place, but on the issue of black money a small high-power panel from the civil society could be considered with eminent people like N.K. Narayana Murthy, Fali S. Nariman, Julio Ribeiro, Aamir Khan, Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Anna Hazare, N. Ram. Also, anyone who has experience and is known for his/her integrity can give suggestions to the Prime Minister, finance minister and the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs.
Civil society has a role in governance, but when coercion is added to the game the whole affair becomes very negative. This is exactly what has happened to the drafting committee of the Lokpal Bill.

The author is a former Union minister

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