Suppose Lalu Yadav is really corrupt, which he may not be, and suppose Narendra Modi is clean as he claims to be. Does it lessen the threat India faces from fascism? Now that Pakistan’s SC has disqualified Nawaz Sharif for not coming clean on his assets, will everyone sleep peacefully? The Afghan Taliban ran an honest government in Kabul. Is that the tradeoff we are looking at — a clean government at any cost, never mind the minorities? The voice from the Orwellian pulpit holds sway. The Philippines president is hooked to its mesmeric wavelength. He has slaughtered at least 7,000 in their homes — a man possessed in his messianic drive to rearrange society. Nations are razed to the ground to comply with the Orwellian decree. Lalu’s India and Sharif’s Pakistan stand at such a crossroads. I was never enamoured of Sharif, not the least because of his grooming as Zia-ul-Haq’s blue-eyed boy. He deepened the fear by wanting to become the amirul momineen, a title borrowed from the Taliban. Democracy has coerced Sharif to curtail his religious atavism. No one should accuse him of not trying to mend fences with India.
In a way, Sharif became nearly as important to Pakistan as Lalu Yadav is to India. Not unlike their Pakistani cousins, even as the BJP crowbarred Lalu’s party out of office in Bihar, many Indian intellectuals were engrossed in an unrelated debate. The BJP struck up an alliance with a former foe, leaving the opposition in tatters. The collaborators explained their power grab as a requirement to fight corruption. If Lalu and his family are in serious trouble, it could not be for a more compelling reason than the fact that he had single-handedly stopped L.K. Advani’s march to Ayodhya. If he is finished off by the BJP, will Indian democracy be safe? It so happened that the Economic and Political Weekly investigated the Adani conglomerate’s alleged links with Prime Minister Modi. There is nothing hidden here. Modi had arrived in Delhi for his swearing-in on Adani’s plane. The investigations sought to establish that Modi had helped the Adani group in securing undeserved tax refunds. The Adanis threatened EPW with legal notice. The editor in his wisdom consulted his lawyers without apparently informing the trustees, including historian Romila Thapar. The editor was asked to remove the story but he preferred to resign. Liberal pontiffs have had a field day blaming the editor and the trustees.
In any case, the main issue in the exposé was lost in the din. If corruption is ever going to be Modi’s Achilles’ heel India should applaud the liberal gladiators for the hard work of bringing the exposé to the people’s notice. Is an exposé going to lay him low though? Moreover, should corruption count as an issue in a world where people are drowning in the Mediterranean to escape slaughter and hunger? What became of the revelations of mass murder in Gujarat, or for that matter in Delhi? We never needed a ruse to evict elected governments, corruption or no corruption. What was the excuse after all to remove Allende or Mossadegh? Bankrolled street power could do the trick, as was the case in Iran in the 1950s. Or someone could bribe the generals, as was the case in Chile, and in some ways also in Bangladesh and perhaps in Pakistan too in the 1970s. Prime Minister Modi accuses everyone, even the super-clean Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, of corruption. It is a useful ploy that helps keep opponents off balance. Above all, Modi’s strategy has the chief minister of West Bengal in its crosshairs. If he can get the communists in Kerala, it would be bonus. The prime minister possibly sees everyone other than himself as corrupt. If he doesn’t quite put it that way, his loyal press is always around to do the makeover. Is that going to be the strategy for the liberal opposition in India or Pakistan — corruption?
We don’t really know what awaits post-Sharif Pakistan, but BJP’s campaign to undermine Lalu Yadav by hook or by crook is part of a core strategy to disrupt the opposition ahead of 2019. Yadav became a national hero — and a lightning rod for secularism — when he briefly jailed L.K. Advani as the BJP stalwart headed to Ayodhya through Bihar in an early attempt at raiding the Babri Masjid. If we compare him with any major opposition leader, Lalu stands out head and shoulders above for never having compromised with Hindutva. Mamata Banerjee and Kejriwal are the other two secular opponents of Modi who could be sorted out. As outspoken critics of Modi, they could face a Bihar-like assault before the next general elections. The BJP has never forgiven Lalu for being staunchly secular, nor is it likely to lower its guard against Banerjee or Kejriwal. Corruption is, however, the least of Modi’s concerns, nor was it ever close to being the real issue in Pakistan.
By arrangement with Dawn...