Friday, January 4, 2013

Congress sees victory in defeat!

(First published in The Pioneer on December 21, 2012)


As it became clear in the course of Thursday that the BJP was going to win Gujarat hands down, I decided to walk down to 10, Janpath, to gauge the mood of the people gathered outside the most important address for Congress workers. Naturally, I had expected a sombre gathering shell-shocked by the —even if expected — drubbing. But I discovered a raucous crowd waving Congress flags, bursting crackers and crying out, “Sonia Gandhi zindabad!” and “Rahul Gandhi zindabad!” For a moment I thought the supporters had got it all wrong. To understand this strange phenomenon I decided to approach 10, Janpath, straight. I located Ram Lal among the people excitedly waving one of the huge flags.
Ram Lal is the nephew of one of the drivers of the car that the Congress president travels in. The driver is a cousin of the gardener who tends to the lawns of the residence. The gardener owes his position to his uncle who had recently retired from service as a bearer who served tea and snacks to members of the dynasty in the Sanctum Sanctorum of the house for twenty long years. The bearer’s place had been taken by his son who only months ago returned from the US where he studied catering and who is a bit hit with Rahul Gandhi because he can quote all the important websites on tea preparation and surf the net and send short messages at super-fast speed while pretending to listen to others talk to him. Ram Lal likes to call his lineage the ‘second dynasty’ at 10, Janpath. Like all efficient bearers, he is good at eavesdropping on conversations that happen between the most important people that gather in the inner recesses of the residence.
So it was Ram Lal who explained the reasons for the untimely celebration. “Narendra Modi has swept Gujarat”, he exulted as he pumped my hands vigorously.
“But why are you people so happy?” I wondered.
“Now Modi will become an important national leader and will be seen as a candidate for the country’s prime ministership.”
“That’s not good news for you.”
“Believe me, it is. It’s what we had all along wanted.”
The after-effects of a humiliating public defeat can render people senseless and drive them mentally unsound. I looked at Ram Lal with concern. But he didn’t appear insane. “This is what our party High Command had
worked for.”
But why would the Congress plot its own debacle? “This is a good instance of stooping to conquer”, he exclaimed with pride. The phrase had been used with greater clarity before. He added, “With Modi as a likely candidate to become the Prime Minister, divisions in the BJP will grow wider. That’s good for us, no?”
I tentatively accepted that Modi’s arrival on the national stage will cause some upheaval in the BJP. But the internal matter can be effectively settled within the party. “What about outside the party, within the NDA?” he countered. “Partners like the JD(U) will break away from the NDA. Potential partners like Naveen Patnaik will keep away from re-joining the Opposition combine. Both the NDA and the BJP will get weak, and we will win the next Lok Sabha election.”
“So you people had actually thought the matter over to this deep extent?” I was struck by awe.
“Yes,” Ram Lal answered, and yelled out, “Sonia Gandhi zindabad!” as he saw the main gate of the residence sliding open. A car drove out, bearing huge garlands of crumpled flowers. They were on the way to be immersed in the gutter-like waters of the Yamuna River. He then let out the secret. “My relative the bearer happened to hear a conversation between Madam and Rahul baba. Ahmed Patelji and Diggy Raja saheb too were present. Mind you, he had no intention of doing so; it’s just that, as he was entering the room with tea and biscuits, he caught snatches of the talk towards the end.”
I was by now very curious to know what exactly he had heard, and even joined him in his next cry, “Rahul Gandhi aage badho, hum tumhare saath hain!” when another car emerged from behind the gates with an athletically built man with a trim moustache seated grimly in the passenger’s seat. I recognised him instantly as the man who had developed close and friendly ties with one of the country’s biggest builders.
“This is in strict confidence,” he whispered and looked over his shoulders. “Madam said that the Congress must not attack Modi during the election campaign. It must not talk of the 2002 riots, the plight of Muslims in the State and the various projects that are languishing for want of the State regime’s attention. In fact, she said that Modi should not even be named during the campaign. Even the criticism that we make for the sake of show must be such that Modi can instantly rebut it.”
“So that he could eventually trounce you and trample all over you?”
“Yes, yes, precisely. And see how that plan has worked out to perfection”, Ram Lal rubbed his hands in glee. I complimented his party’s leadership for the success. But was there no opposition to that plan? Did Rahul Gandhi and others accept it without a murmur? After all, defeat is defeat, even when it is supposed to be victory. What was the tea bearer’s take on that? Ram Lal was aghast at even the suggestion of dissent. “My rishtedaar told me that the other three in the room began to clap and cheer. They even sang, ‘Modi tum jiyo hazaron saal’. Even Madam joined in the chorus. It was a master-stroke to finish off the BJP’s challenge in the Lok Sabha election. We were of course told about the plan later and we played to the script.”
By now, the crowd had done one hour of cheering and was clearly exhausted. Moreover, neither Sonia nor Rahul had appeared outside to boost the gathering’s energy. With one final, “Zindabad, zindabad!” they began to disperse. Ram Lal curled up the worn-out flag around the pole and kept it aside. It had seen better days. “I have a confession to make.”
“Yes?” I prompted him.
“We may have succeeded remarkably in our plan for self-defeat, as you can see from the results. But if we had worked to defeat Modi, we might have failed. That would have been disastrous — for Madam and Rahul baba.”

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