Recent series of events suggest that may well be the case

Is the BJP becoming part of the Congress partys ecosystem
Voices Politics Friday, March 11, 2016 - 19:00

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi asked in parliament how Vijay Mallya was allowed to leave the country. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley reminded him that Bofors middleman Ottavio Quattrocchi fled the country during the Congress party’s tenure. True, but the NDA needs a memory jog as well – it did little to bring the fugitive from Indian justice back to the country to face justice. Mallya is not yet a fugitive from Indian justice with a red corner Interpol alert. The BJP may be laughing at Rahul Gandhi’s lack of political acumen or scholarship, but they can take away little from the consummate politician that his mother Sonia Gandhi is.

Politicians in general and Congress politicians in particular fear the lady.  She is Delhi’s political ecosystem. Many Indians expected this system will be democratically dismantled as they voted for the NDA in 2014, but till that actually happens, we will be treated to friendly fire and high school debates in parliament. What that last exchange between Jaitley and Gandhi did was to introduce some parity between Modi (in an issue he has nothing to do with) and Sonia Gandhi (family friend of Quattrocchi). The Prime Minister’s lieutenants just did him a disservice.

An ecosystem is generally defined as a complex network or interconnected system. For example, the Silicon Valley in California (USA) has an entrepreneurial ecosystem. New Delhi has a back-scratching ecosystem. I have been a journalist long enough to know that when rules are not respected, orders are expected. When orders are taken, arbitrariness and individual discretion is primed, stories are planted and whispering campaigns are launched. Nothing is written but everything is understood. When that happens, institutional responsibility and accountability is the first casualty. Try this. The BJP’s handling of the Rohith Vemula tragedy and the student unrest in JNU suggest that the party’s bosses may have lost sight of which way is up. Posturing about swift action on Vijay Mallya is another indication of the growing muddle.

The one question no one has convincingly answered is this. Why is the Narendra Modi government unable to read political winds before they run their destructive course? Yes, good processes have been set in place and yes, the Union Budget was a fair product in most areas it addressed. So why is that not adding up to faith in the government and its capacity to take India forward? There are only two reasons I can think of. One, there are people in the BJP who don't want to change the status quo on many issues. Two, the Prime Minister has not been able to build a robust narrative in a crowded market place that abhors challenge and novelty. Together, they are grist for the ecosystem that thrives on mediocrity and back scratching.

If Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s second term was marked by increasing silence on rampant corruption in the country among other issues, the present government’s people are talking for talking sake. They are not briefing journalists, for example, in a regular manner on issues and it seems to me that ministers, ministries, aides and public relations companies think a twitter handle is all that is necessary to be social media savvy. The result is credibility-destroying cacophony. Delhi is a town of rumours and fixers par excellence. Governments come and governments go, but fixers remain untouched and ensure continuity. Most capitals around the world have some of this but they are not consumed by deceit and deception as a way of life.

By all indications, the echo chambers of the ecosystem are intact. They can smell, swell and spin  issues depending on political winds. When trouble was brewing at JNU or when Vemula’s tragic death left a trail of questions, the ecosystem, not the government went on an overdrive. When the Vijay Mallya story started making the rounds, it was clear the government was running out of options. It made little sense to say the bad loans were granted by UPA. What was NDA doing about them? And what was that about assuring people they would get their money back? Why must people beg for what is rightfully theirs? If the government genuinely believes that keeping Indians poor and begging is a Congress ruse where is the rights-driven and data based new thinking across sectors?

Some answers may be found here. Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee (NDA 1) and his cabinet colleagues ensured Ms. Gandhi remained humoured and feted when they were in power. This is common courtesy, but it does not include cover-ups. The latter strengthened the ecosystem erected by the Congress party with a few additions. The BJP now seems to be a part of this system it left untouched 15 years ago. It is highly likely that its members have also partaken of this bounty making it equally guilty of working towards a comfort zone within a zone. This may also serve to explain why all the corruption stories from UPA 2 have been accommodated. There was never a system in place to pursue any policy or programme to start – when can Indians hope to see responsive institutions?

Planting stories in the media, favouring or fixing businesspeople, placing favourites in top jobs is a par for the course. In this game the Congress is slick, the BJP is sloppy, but the damage remains. Such acts embolden individuals and weaken institutions – that’s what ecosystems are meant to do. But, the Indian electorate is young and increasingly bold. It is beginning to tell chalk from cheese. India did not vote for status quo in 2014. It may not vote for the ecosystem in 2019.

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