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Playing to the Galleries

September 3, 2009

‘Me Tarzan!!’ said Arun Shourie about Rajnath Singh and the BJP leadership in his famous interview with Shekhar Gupta. He was referring to the propensity of the BJP top brass led by Rajnath Singh to take postures to impress the RSS leadership. It is a sad commentary on the state of affairs in the BJP. If they have to keep looking over their shoulder to another organization that claims that it has nothing to do with politics, then there is something fundamentally wrong with the Bharatiya Janata Party as a political outfit and its whole outlook to politics. If at all they need to think about anyone it is the people of India and not another organization that is a feeder of sorts for their political talent. The one reason why Rajnath Singh has been such an ineffective leader of the country’s second largest political party is because his focus was not the party per se but to keep everyone around him happy, at least those who he thought mattered. The RSS was perhaps first on his list of such luminaries. He is a man without a backbone and has little political foresight and purpose. The BJP is crying hoarse about the defeat in the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections so much so that Bal Thakeray said that the BJP should come to terms with it and move on. I guess the way things are in the BJP they should feel lucky they crossed the 100 figure mark. If the same lackadaisical attitude continues, without a modicum of discipline or grass root level effort, the party may soon be consigned into the dustbin of history.

This playing to the gallery has cost the BJP a lot. They need to redefine their relationship with the RSS and should learn to keep the Sangh at a respectable distance. However, it seems that this trying to please the ones that matter is not a copyright of the BJP. From across the border, we have another personality that is busy doing just that. He is fighting for his survival as much as the BJP is on the political front here in India. The President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari is busy pandering to what he feels his masters want from him. The recent ‘surrender’ of a 100 Taliban fighters in SWAT was as much a show meant to impress the western powers as was the claim that Hakimullah Mehsud is dead and that his twin brother is now the head of the Taliban. Tall claims are being made by the Pakistan government headed by Zardari which have little or no basis. The recent attack on the NATO trucks again was also a typical Pakistan style of politics where while they will bow down for what they want but will strike where it hurts in an attempt to remind that they can harm too. It is amazing how Zardari is playing games trying to impress the west that he and his government are trying really hard to fight the Taliban and prove that they are a credible ally in their Af-Pak initiative.

Benazir Bhutto when she was alive made it very clear that she would not like Asif Ali Zardari anywhere near the corridors of power. He was her husband and the father of her children but that was it. She named her son Bilal as her heir-apparent. The young man was too raw to take over the reign of power and to run the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Zardari first made himself the caretaker of the party and then extended a hand of friendship to Nawaz Sharief only to grab power and leave the Lion of Punjab in a lurch. He had in the meantime sent his son Bilal back to Oxford to continue his education. Zardari like Rajnath is a thoroughly incompetent man and has done little in this short time period. The Pakistan establishment has been ruminating for sometime at a policy of ‘minus one’, ostensibly a reference to keeping out Zardari from all important decisions taken in Islamabad. The constitution as it stands today makes it very difficult to impeach the President or to remove him. Zardari knows that patience within the party and among those who count is running thin. He therefore must play to the galleries. He also knows that the one critical player in the politics of Pakistan is the army. He is trying his level best to keep them in good humor. He has therefore demanded from the Americans weapons on lend or lease basis. This has not been done by the US since World War II.  The British were then lent and leased weapons the final payment for which was recently concluded by the British a few years ago. Zardari is a slippery customer. He is trying to placate the army by making such suggestions. By doing so he is also making it imperative for the Americans to stay put in their relations with Pakistan – i.e. not to abandon them totally. Any such military arrangement will naturally make Pakistan a very close ally of the US which Pakistan desperately wants looking at the economic condition of the country. Zardari knows that Obama administration is desperate to make the Af-Pak a success and they also know that Pakistan is critical to the US in this initiative. If this happens and the Americans do give Pakistan weapons, it will be a cheap alternative, give more teeth to the Pakistan army making it a more credible force vis-à-vis India which will be music to the ears of the army honchos. The claims of surrenders and clearing Taliban from Swat are his way of showing the Americans what they are doing with their limited resources. Were the Americans more amenable to their demands they could do so much more, he is trying to suggest. The good news for Zardari is that the Americans are listening.

This is not to say that the Americans are not propping up Nawaz Sharief. What holds them back is that they are not sure Sharief will be as eager to cater to their whims and fancies as is Zardari. They know that with Zardari at the helm they can ask for the moon and more and the man won’t bat an eyelid, till such time that he feels he is secure as the President of Pakistan. I am sure the Americans also realize that if they are serious about their efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan they need a more reliable, competent man who speaks his mind. Wild claims with little progress on the ground will be a huge step backwards. This massive effort of the west in Afghanistan and Pakistan hinges on some vital knobs, and one of them is the leadership in Islamabad and the other is the army (the Pakistan part of the equation). The army is recalcitrant about any major thrust in the tribal agencies. They are loath to fight their own people. Because they rightly believe that at some level this makes the army weak and there is a growing hatred for them among the awam in Pakistan. As I said, this is a tricky situation. Benazir knew her man and therefore was firm in not letting him anywhere near the seat of power. The blighter has got what she had denied him all these years, now that she is no more.

I am told that Rajnath Singh’s term ends in December of this year. It is also being said that he is not going to get another term as the party constitution does not allow more than one term (if my memory serves me right L.K. Advani was the president for more than one term). The BJP will get rid of the Thakur, I am not sure Pakistan will be that lucky, unless Uncle Sam sees through the game of the wily Sindhi and sends him packing. Who will go first – Rajnath Singh or Asif Ali Zardari? Your guess is as good as mine.

Addendum: There is one difference however between Rajnath Singh and Asif Ali Zardari. While Zardari’s nickname was ‘Mr. 10 percent’ any such graft cannot be associated with Rajnath Singh, in that the man is squeaky clean.

A Footnote: YS Rajashekhar Reddy, the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh died in a helicopter crash near Kurnool on the 2nd of September, 2009. It is a sad end to a promising career. The man was hard working and was trying to do something for the state. His untimely demise has come as a shocker. A Christian, he had a good rapport with the Gandhis.  There will be a void in the Congress in the state of Andhra Pradesh at least for the foreseeable future.

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