Vadra-Gate & after
A powerful son-in-law produces unprecedented churning in Indian politics.
10 October 2012: There is one son-in-law, N.Chandrababu Naidu, who hijacked the NTR family business of politics. Robert Vadra, on the other hand, by his questionable business practices, threatens to bring down the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Here's a look at the medium-term impact of Vadra-Gate.
On the Nehru-Gandhis: This dynasty, which has become an albatross on the Indian people ("mango people", in Vadra's lexicon), has always found sons- and daughters-in-law and cousins to be troublesome, but not in the sense of a threat that Robert Vadra has become. Vadra is the soft underbelly of the Nehru-Gandhis, so to speak, calling attention to the worst taints of UPA such as 2G, CWG and Coalgate from which the Family so far remained miraculously insulated. The cover of the Nehru-Gandhis hiding behind an "honest" prime minister has been finally and fully blown. There can be no recovery from Vadra-Gate. If the Family permits the investigation of Robert Vadra, it cannot control the disclosures. Moreover, the public shan't accept anything but Vadra's guilt. And if the Family puts a lid on Vadra-Gate, it will explode in a series of small to big explosions, in a repetition of what has played out so far. Damned if they do; damned if they don't. Vadra-Gate has become a no-win affair for the Nehru-Gandhis.
On Congress: The worst has happened for the party. It had hoped the Nehru-Gandhis had learned their lessons from Bofors, using the Manmohan Singh government as a shield, and leaving others to handle the smoking gun. Robert Vadra has blasted all those cautionary measures sky-high. Why Congress ministers and spokespersons jumped to Vadra's defence initially is rooted in two reasons. Obviously, the direction came from Sonia Gandhi or one of her aides. But there were also forces of self-preservation at work. If Vadra sank the Nehru-Gandhis, they would go down too. So it was a desperate bid at defending the indefensible. Trouble is, this is just the beginning of the troubles. Nobody knows what more revelations are coming from Arvind Kejriwal, and the man is unstoppable. He thrives on muckraking, and the public loves it. Congress will have hell to pay in the coming Delhi assembly elections, where Arvind Kejriwal's party-in-being will cut into its votes, adding to the misery of the hardening anti-incumbency sentiment. In the general elections, Congress will fare worse courtesy Vadra-Gate, and will lose power on its account.
On BJP: Political logic suggests that on the strength of anti-incumbency passions stacked against Congress, the principal opposition party will come to power in Delhi and in the Centre, but with the margin of victory considerably depleted by Arvind Kejriwal. BJP's situation would be messy if in the next round of Kejriwal's exposes, some of the party's central leaders are implicated. Even if Kejriwal does not have the goods on BJP, Congress will happily provide it, and the anti-corruption crusader will use it after checks. If Congress and BJP are at each other's throats, that gives Kejriwal's political ambitions more space. Arvind Kejriwal knows what he is doing, and BJP's predicaments have been called upon by it. It missed the chance to pursue Vadra-Gate. Or, if insiders are to be believed, it feared Vadra-Gate would blow in its face if seized. Either way, BJP is caught between a rock and a hard place, and the only way to save it is to clean up the central leadership, which would, of course, open the way for Narendra Modi to move to Delhi, a prospect as frightening for the central BJP as for the Congress dynasty. Who thought central BJP leaders and the Nehru-Gandhis would find themselves in the same rocky boat? Talk about politics and strange bedfellows.
On Arvind Kejriwal: Breaking away from Anna Hazare has done this activist wonders. He is one more example of the disciple overtaking the guru. But gaining primetime news TV coverage is a lot easier than building a political party, joining it to a vision, and seeing to the success and fruition of both in the most imperfect laboratory of political organization of people called democracy. There is no evidence that Kejriwal has political vision; of his party, there is no sign, much less a name; and it is unclear what roles Shanti and Prashant Bhushan will play in this new political venture. At the least, the Bhushans are controversial, clever lawyers such as Congress and BJP have, and lawyers have done no good to politics in the last eight years of UPA. (You could say that about technocrats too.) If Arvind Kejriwal is capable of more than exposing Vadra-Gate and campaigning against Delhi's thieving power distributing companies (the DERC's current regulators must be investigated too), he must give quick evidence to the public. Disgusted with Congress and unsure of BJP, the public is pinning hopes on Kejriwal, and they would be dashed unless he moves with speed. Arvind Kejriwal's political party must soon surface showing all its form and substance.
On corruption: At the same time that Vadra-Gate has given a sneering-leering face to political profiteering, it has also revealed how difficult it is to nail the corrupt political class spanning mainstream and regional parties. To that extent, the war against corruption cannot end anytime soon, and it is arguable if it has even begun. In the coming months, the political environment will get as dirty and muddy as it will become opaque with allegations and counter-allegations, with everybody seeking to tar everybody else with the broad brush of corruption. The public will not know who to trust, confidence in the system will plunge, and elected governments will struggle to stabilize in an atmosphere of fear and suspicion. Policy paralysis will be complete. The only beacons of hope will be the Supreme Court and the Comptroller and Auditor General, and it will be a term before the country gets on its feet.
On "reforms" and growth: "Reforms" is a dying story. Don't believe any of the rhetoric of Manmohan Singh, P.Chidambaram and the business papers. Foreign multi-brand retail will not take off in an environment of political uncertainty (and especially in the thick of land scams), and those so-called reform measures that need parliamentary approval simply won't get it. Despite the government's pro-FDI policies, India will be written off in the foreseeable future by ratings agencies, and mounting inflationary pressures (inflation could go out of control) will kill growth. The already blighted economy will tank as politics takes its rightful place ahead of economics, and there will be a backlash against "reforms" which won't repair easily or soon. You should know who to blame for this.
On governance: After Vadra-Gate and the wounding of the political class, governments will struggle to survive and stabilize, and governance will take a hit. As said before, policy paralysis will be total. The bureaucracy will not take good decisions, which is not such an unusual thing. Governments will survive one day at a time, with destablizers having a field day. This could be the scenario for the coming two years, if not longer. Add this to the eight wasted years of UPA and it makes a lost decade.
On dynastic politics: One good outcome of Vadra-Gate is that dynastic parties like Congress, Samajwadi Party, Shiv Sena, National Conference, Rashtriya Janata Dal, DMK, Akali Dal, etc, will come under intense scrutiny. Voters will reject them in significant and decisive ways. With the veil lifted off the Nehru-Gandhis, no political dynasty is safe in the country. Dynasty is the root of political corruption in India, and India will remain in the grip of corruption till political dynasties thrive.
On emerging India: In the coming two years or more, the country will turn inward looking as it sets itself right. India will become disengaged from world affairs and focus on correcting the distortions of the UPA years. It will be a time when world confidence in India becomes low, and apprehensions will be expressed about its unity and integrity. India will, however, emerge stronger from the period of self-doubt and decline, with transformed and rejuvenated politics. But that remains three or four years away.
Meanwhile, who could conceive that a brass peddler from Moradabad would become the reason for India to so pitilessly cleanse itself?