Enter the Dirty Tricks Department
In my previous article, “Why Anna Hazare can finish JP’s unfinished agenda…” I had been quite categorical in stating that Team Anna needs to brace for a campaign of insinuations, diversions and divisive tactics emanating from the dirty tricks department of the Congress.
At that time I had recieved several calls from my friends in “India Against Corruption” (IAC) who refused to believe in the merits of my assertion as they felt the movement was too noble and too bipartisan to be targetted by the establishment by such vile methods. After all hadn’t the government proclaimed publicly that they were on Anna’s side in the war against graft. True to it’s form, however the Congress did just what I had expected. A doctored tape came out of nowhere against the Bhushans, leading lights of the IAC. While the Bhushans cleared their name in that matter, in 24 hours they were sought to be implicated in a laughable land scandal by a prominent newspaper. Even as the BJP rallied behind Anna, an officer surfaces out of nowhere after nine long years to file an affadavit against Narendra Modi, a politician who is seen by many to be the natural beneficiary of this movement against corruption largely due to his tough and incorruptible persona.
The reason for my prediction and the Congress party’s subsequent reaffirmation of the same is well quite simple “Old habits die hard” as the popular adage goes.
In his telling semi-autobiographical book on the inner machinations of the Congress, “The Insider’, former Prime Minister PV Narsimha Rao details the rise of a fictional Congressman Mahendranath Chaudhary. Chaudhary, is a politician who is adroit enough to see through the hollowness of Nehru’s Socialist model. Chaudhary however finds professional redemption in an encounter with a “high-society prostitute” where he has his game changing insight: “Appearance, make-up, not the real you; that was what Indian politics was about.” That cathartic moment transforms Chaudhury from an avowed sceptic about the “socialistic pattern of society” to one of its most fervent advocates, attracting the attention of Jawaharlal Nehru and paving the way for his ascent to the chief ministership.
Politics in a flawed democracy is based more on an individual’s/ideology’s popular perception than his/it’s actual merits. It is this lacunae of Indian democracy that is exploited to the hilt by propagandists manning the dirty tricks department.
In the good old days, such dirty tricks largely consisted of malicious whisper campgains and empty sloganeering in the heartland. So activists of JP movement were labelled as fascist reactionaries and CIA dalals by Indira. More recently in the 1998 general elections faced with the wave of “Abki baari, Atal Behari” (This time, it will be Atal Behari), Sonia Gandhi infamously retorted in campaign rallies “Atal Behari jhootha hain!” (Atal Behari is a liar). So heavy was the backlash against Sonia that the damage caused needed some undoing. Even more recently in the 2003 Madhya Pradesh elections, Meenakshi Natarajan, a dalit leader of the Youth Congress came out with a slogan “Gay hamari mata hai, Atal behari isko khata hain” (Cow is our mother, Atal Behari eats her) to take on the anti-incumbency wave against Digvijay Singh by provoking the sensibilities of a deeply conservative state. End result the Congress was not just defeated in the elections but completely washed out. While Digvijay Singh is still in a state of exile, Meenakshi Natarajan managed to survive that disaster and is now being promoted by Rahul Gandhi as the party’s young dalit face. Fortunately for Meenakshi, she learnt her lessons quite early in her career that this old school style of dirty tricks has lost credibility.
To make up for the problems of the old school style of dirty tricks, a more recent evolution of dirty tricks has emerged – that of forged documents . The most spectacular trick being the St.Kitts forgery case where rebel Congress leader VP Singh was sought to be cornered with forged documents of his son’s Swiss bank account. In the age of 24/7 media such malicious stories are planted in friendly media outlets. The idea is simple, embroil your opponents in fake cases. Make a hue and cry of the same through your cronies in the media. By the time your opponents redeem themselves in the notoriously meandering Indian courts of law, the damage to the opponent’s public perception would have already been done.
Unfortunately the strategists at 10-Janpath and 7-Racecourse Road who have gone on a overdrive being in a state of panic need to revisit the Arthashastra. As Chanakya would have said, such dirty tricks are best used against those with dodgy credentials and even in those cases as a weapon of last resort not that of first choice. Against popular leaders like Atal Behari Vajpayee or popular movements like the India Against Corruption, they only provoke a nasty backlash. Some signs of it have already emerged. In a discussion in a news channel anchored by a controversial journalist closely identified with the Congress, Swami Agnivesh was asked if it was morally right for the Bhushan’s to continue. Swami Agnivesh retorted to her was it morally right for a journalist with questionable integrity to conduct a discussion on corruption.
For the Congress, the very opposite of what they had intended has happened. A fractious civil society show signs of differences has closed ranks in face of the slander. Even more damagingly the phrase “Dirty Tricks department of the Congress” which till now was heard of only in meetings of the Sangh Parivar is now increasingly finding resonance in drawing rooms across Middle India. A far cry from the nuclear deal days of 2007 when the phrase “Singh is King” was the popular refrain.
The power duo
As for the King himself, Manmohan Singh was recently asked why he seemed unruffled by the season of scams. He muttered philosophically, “if winter has come, can spring be far behind”. The Prime Minister urgently needs to ditch his Machiavellian philosphers and only look at his former Boss PV Narsimha Rao, who sensing the impending winter in the 1996 election came out with the Hawala Scandal against his opponents as a last ditch attempt to shore up his political fortunes. What followed next for Mr Rao is well history.
Truth be told, weather in Indian politics is seldom bound by meteorological constraints. A combination of sins and popular disenchantment sometimes brings about a winter so long and so harsh that what follows next is not the spring of fortune but monsoons so unrelenting and ferocious that no amount of tricks can prevent a complete washout!
Parth Sheth is a friend of CRI. He tweets as parthsheth