The BJP has reason to be enormously grateful to its senior leader Yashwant Sinha for his outburst at the parliamentary party meeting last Tuesday. Without Sinha’s forceful protest, it is possible that the covert deal struck between NRI ‘businessman’ Anshuman Mishra and a section of the party’s national leadership would have led to Jharkhand electing another political carpetbagger to the Rajya Sabha, this time courtesy the BJP.
Over the past few days, particularly after an embarrassed BJP was forced to disown this backdoor arrangement and advise its MLAs to abstain from voting, a visibly upset Mishra has made numerous TV appearances. His utterances have been extremely revealing and have confirmed many of the whispers that have been doing the rounds of the BJP headquarters in Lutyens’ Delhi.
First, Mishra’s candidature as an Independent had the blessings and active support of the BJP national president Nitin Gadkari and a few others. Apart from his nomination papers being signed by BJP MLAs, Mishra was even accompanied by a full-time Sangathan Mantri for Jharkhand and Odisha. None of this would have been possible without a signal from the very top.
Second, Mishra’s candidature wasn’t approved by the BJP Parliamentary Board but was a private arrangement. This in turn raises the question: What was so special about Mishra that he had to be somehow accommodated, if necessary by stealth?
Third, contrary to Mishra’s initial suggestion that he personified youthful urges in the BJP, it now turns out that he was — by his own admission — a facilitator between businessmen needing political assistance and the BJP leadership. His claim of being asked to arrange meetings between telecom companies and the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee investigating the 2G scam is calculated to create a political storm. The Congress is unlikely to let go of a wonderful opportunity to target a top leader of the BJP.
Mishra has asserted that he is no paratrooper from London but someone who has apparently funded the BJP over the years. It is not clear whether the funds were for the party or for individual war chests — an important distinction.
What was the source of this funding? Far from running some self-generating enterprise with a large disposable surplus that permits him to indulge his ideological fantasies, Mishra’s area of specialisation (as evidenced by his true confessions on TV) seems to have been confined to bringing businessmen and BJP politicians together. In the West, such facilitators are called lobbyists or liaison men. In India, the vernacular translation of middlemen is the preferred usage.
The answers to many of these questions will forever be anecdotal, unverifiable and, occasionally, a bit fanciful. However, what could well be irrefutable is the belief that the quality of Indian politics isn’t enhanced if individuals such as Mishra are allowed by the national political parties to inveigle their way into the Rajya Sabha. It speaks volumes for the value system of individuals in the top brass of the BJP that they didn’t think that seats-for-donations constitutes a violation of the trust reposed in them by millions of ordinary people attached to the party.
Anshuman Mishra has exposed himself for what he is — a spoilt brat inclined to pursue a scorched earth policy now that he has been deprived of a club membership he imagined had been paid for. But those who have permitted the entry of individuals like Mishra into the world of politics are now disingenuously feigning innocence. As much as the NRI loudmouth, it is the sponsors of creatures such as Mishra who must be called upon to answer.
It should be recalled that a few years ago the BJP also covertly sponsored the candidature of one of its less wholesome members as an Independent candidate for a Rajya Sabha seat from Uttar Pradesh. The man reportedly spent a fortune trying to incentivise MLAs into supporting him. The endeavour failed but the gentleman remains in the BJP, occupying positions of responsibility during elections and cutting deals with top leaders.
The debasement of the political space isn’t a monopoly of the BJP. The Congress is still well ahead in the race. But the mere fact that the BJP is being spoken in the same breath as its principal opponent is revealing. There was once a simple-minded innocence about the BJP that made it very attractive for those who valued wholesome public life. The BJP was, as LK Advani used to say, the AK Hangal of politics.
In attempting to update itself, the BJP has fallen prey to amoral vulgarisation. Today, leadership brings with it certain privileges that many cannot do without. If they had paid for an opulent lifestyle through honestly-earned, tax-paid incomes, no one need have complained. But they expect someone else to bankroll them. Hence the importance of fixers in a system based on freebies and chartered private aircraft. But since there is never anything like a free lunch, the leaders shouldn’t be outraged when a bill is presented to them before Rajya Sabha elections.
One of the consequences of the fragmentation of political power is that dalals are no longer confined to the ruling party; the Opposition wields enough clout to make its presence felt. This is why an election defeat no longer leaves politicians shattered. This may explain why the hunger to reclaim political power is missing in the BJP. Being in opposition can be cosy too.