From Saffron to Yellow

After its nuclear tests, a triumphant Bharatiya Janata Party proclaims that saffron means toughness, courage, unwillingness to be eked around by mighty foreigners. It means standing up for your principles regardless of the cost of sanctions. We demand recognition as nuclear power, we demand ore respect from the rest of the world, says the BJP.

However, in domestic politics, the same party is looking a pathetic coward that abandons principle and goes for ignominious retreat when threatened by Indian bullies? Some examples:

  • The budget increased the price of urea by one rupee per kilo. Even at this price urea remained highly subsidised, so finance minister Yeshshwant Sinha was initially aplauded for taking on the farm lobby. But then, predictably, the farm lobby growled. Sinha hastily halved the price hike to 50 paise per kilo. Then SS of the Akali Dal growled, did some other MPs, and Sinha is portedly considering abandoning price hike altogether.
  • State electricity boards are bankrupt thanks to the politicalicing of power for farmers and ban consumers. Electricity in Tamil Nadu is free for farmers. To keep politics out of pricing, the BJP issued an ordinance last month 3viding for independent regulatory authorities in every state to fix tariffs; for no sector to be subsidised by more than 50 per cent; and for agriculture to get to the 50per cent subsidy level within three years.

Power minister Kumaramangalam was congratulated for such courageous reforms. But protests soon poured in from farmers (and from Jayalalitha). Kumaramangalam turned pale and gave in. He has now presented an amended bill providing that no state need appoint independent regulators or lay down minimum tariffs. Bold reform has given way to surrender.

  • The budget increased the price of petrol by almost Rs 4 per litre. It would have been more logical to have a modest price hike for all liquid fuels, but the finance minister funked taking on rural diesel users and housewives using kerosene. Instead he sought safety by focussing on the smaller number of petrol users. However, petrol-users naturally screamed. Within 24 hours, Sinha reduced the price hike to just one rupee per litre. He pretended the earlier big increase was a misunderstanding, but no reader should be fooled by this. The finance minister lacked the courage of conviction.
  • Not a week passes without Jayalalitha and her hirelings making additional demands on the government. The BJP has not surrendered completely (it has not, for instance, sacked the state government). Yet in several matters it has sacrificed principle for expediency. No less than 72 legal-wing functionaries of the AIADMK have been appointed as government counsel, reports The Indian Express. This undermines the integrity of the legal process against the Tamil leader. RK Kumar, minister of state for finance, transferred several income tax officers dealing with Jayalalitha’s cases, and his colleague Thambi Durai replaced many government lawyers prosecuting her. Jayalalitha felt that even this was not enough, and obliged RK Kumar to resign.

These issues apart, Jayalalitha got as many as seven ministerships despite controlling only 27 seats out of 262 in the BJP-led combine. And when one of her nominees (Mr Muthiah) was dropped from the Cabinet after being charge-sheeted, she forced the Prime Minister to drop Buta Singh as well.

So, there you have the picture. A government which claims it can stand up to the mightiest nations of the world quivers like jelly in front of the AIADMK.

Abroad it talks of principled disarmament, but at home, it forgets about principle as it disarms officers proceeding against Ms Jayalalitha in various cases. Vajpayee talks tough with Bill Clinton but sweats profusely at the very sight of Jayalalitha. Yeshwant Sinha refuses to be cowed down by western creditors, but retreats the moment farmers or petrol-users utter an oath or two.

Thus the BJP has evolved an entirely swadeshi notion of what courage means. Swadeshi courage apparently means standing up to foreign bullies but caving in to swadeshi ones. It means standing up for principle where videshis are concerned but surrendering principle where swadeshis are concerned. Abroad, the BJP waves the saffron flag. At home, it looks plain yellow. BJP supporters will complain that I am being too harsh. After all, the BJP lacks a majority in Parliament and can be toppled any minute by the allies whose votes it needs for survival. So, say BJP supporters, it is sensible to sacrifice some principles. After all, had it not kow-towed to Jayalalitha, it would not have been able to explode any nuclear bombs.

Maybe so. I can only say that Faustian bargains look attractive on first sight but soon turn sour. Besides, there is something peculiar about an argument that claims high principle is essential abroad but dispensable at home. Strip away the rhetoric and you will see the underlying logic.

The BJP knows Bill Clinton cannot topple it, but Jayalalitha can. So it roars like a lion abroad but plays the jackal at home. Its apparently inconsistent policy is actually consistent: it aims at survival by any means, including double standards. Even its apparent courage in standing up to the US is a way of improving its chances of domestic survival.

There remains, however, a problem. The BJP demands respect from the western powers for having exploded a nuclear bomb. But the whole world can see that the BJP does not command the respect of even Jayalalitha. Exploding the bomb makes little difference: the world is not going to respect Jayalalitha’s doormat.

What do you think?