Sonia Gandhi and her Ghoda Sudheendra Kulkarni

A schism between preaching and practice having long become an accepted norm in Indian politics, an un-Gandhian act by the Congress leadership when the AICC held its special session on November 17 to commemorate 100 years of Mahatma Gandhi’s satyagraha movement went almost unnoticed. No, I am not referring to the fact that it was organised principally to project Rahul Gandhi as the next leader of the Congress and nation. Nor am I on the point of the glaring contradiction between his call for ‘meritocracy’ in politics and his own failure to show any merit so far to qualify for the top billing he was getting. Let Sonia Gandhi’s deafening silence on Nandigram at the AICC session also be overlooked, a silence that stood in stark contrast to the bold stance by West Bengal’s governor and the Mahatma’s grandson, Gopalkrishna Gandhi. She was probably following the precept of one of the Mahatma’s three favourite monkeys: “See no evil.” She was not even present in the Lok Sabha during the day-long debate on Nandigram. Not surprising, since she, too, has shown no merit whatsoever in parliamentary proceedings. Despite being the UPA’s chairperson, she has not participated in a single debate in Parliament since May 2004. I am referring, instead, to the Congress party’s role in H.D. Deve Gowda’s betrayal drama in Karnataka. Recall that 125 MLAs belonging to the BJP-JD(S) coalition paraded themselves before President Pratibha Patil on November 6. Gowda’s son H.D. Kumaraswamy, who enjoyed chief-ministership with BJP support for 20 months, insisted on that day that his support to the BJP was ‘unconditional’ . Left with no choice, the governor, a loyal Congressman, swore in BJP leader B.S. Yeddyurappa as the state’s 25th chief minister. This is when the Congress leadership in Delhi became hyperactive. Four senior central ministers were in constant telephonic contact with the JD(S) supremo, telling him, in effect, “Deve Gowdaji, why do you want to give up your efforts to thwart a BJP-led government in Bangalore? Just ensure that your party MLAs don’t support Yeddyurappa in the confidence vote. Thereafter, come to Delhi and we’ll discuss how the Congress can help your party form the government again.” This is exactly what Deve Gowda did, forcing Yeddyurappa to quit on November 19, before seeking a confidence vote. But when Gowda came to Delhi the same evening to discuss a new Congress-JD( S) arrangement, Sonia Gandhi, my sources tell me, did not even take his call. Instead, the Union cabinet swiftly brought Karnataka under President’s Rule again. In other words, the Congress leadership goaded Gowda to betray the BJP, and then betrayed him itself.

Look at how both the Congress and JD(S) have perverted the people’s mandate in Karnataka. In the 2004 assembly elections, the Congress was voted out of power. The BJP emerged as the single largest party (79 out of 224 seats), primarily due to Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s phenomenal popularity in the state, trailed by the Congress (65) and the JD-S (58). Now, if the assembly is finally dissolved, as is most likely, it will have set an unedifying record: the parties that came second and third in the 2004 elections got to have their chief ministers, but the party that came first was conspiratorially denied the same opportunity. Self-styled secularists might justify this by saying that the ‘communal’ BJP must be kept out of power by any means, fair or foul. But is this what we mean by democracy? Remember how the battle to protect secularism bizarrely gifted India with Deve Gowda’s premiership in 1996? In the elections to the Lok Sabha that year, Congress lost power, winning only 140 seats. The BJP emerged as the single largest party with 161 MPs, but Vajpayee was denied the opportunity to serve the nation beyond 13 days. In the power struggle that followed, the ‘secular’ warriors finally crowned a back-bencher from the Janata Dal, a party with only 46 seats, to become India’s prime minister. What a backstabber the ex-PM has turned out to be. The lesson to be learnt from the political skulduggery in Karnataka is this: It is easy to eulogise the Mahatma, as Sonia Gandhi and Dr Manmohan Singh have done on numerous occasions in recent years in their unconcealed bid to project the Congress party as the sole inheritor of his legacy. But are they heeding what he preached as principled political conduct? As one enters Raj Ghat, an attentive visitor will not fail to notice a redstone plaque that bears Gandhiji’s message about ‘Seven Deadly Sins’. These are: Wealth without Work; Pleasure without Conscience; Science without Humanity; Knowledge without Character; Politics without Principle; Commerce without Morality; Worship without Sacrifice. The exhortation about the fifth deadly sin — Politics without Principle — applies to all political parties, to a greater or lesser extent. But there is an additional lesson the BJP must learn from the happenings in Karnataka. After tasting the first betrayal at Gowda’s hands, when he refused to hand over power to Yeddyurappa in October, it should not have given him the opportunity to administer the second betrayal. By committing this mistake, it too is seen as a party hankering for power — even at the cost of self-honour.