To be with a Kanda or to use the danda (stick) — that’s the question;
Whether it is smarter in politics to suffer,
The slings and arrows of an outraged Twitterati
Or to embrace the Chautalas we wanted wiped out and jailed?
If politics were a tragedy, we can be rest assured William Shakespeare could have never imagined Amit Shah as its Hamlet. For, Shah would have never suffered Hamletian dilemmas of the ‘to be with Kanda or the Chautalas’ variety. His response would have always been: What’s in a name, that what we call a Chautala or a Kanda is just another name for a horse in the game?
You’ve got to give it to Shah for two stellar qualities. One, he is fully clued into the history and dynamics of not just people, but also entire families and states. In Haryana, for example, he was aware that the state pioneered the concept of ‘Aaya Ram, Gaya Ram’. So he has already launched a new season of the Aaya-Gaya (defection) opera by ushering in Gopal Kanda through a revolving door one day and then welcoming Dushyant Chautala the next evening. (More about that later.)
Two, he has made elections redundant in India. For, whatever be the process, whatever be the state, whatever be the issues, whatever be the outcome, in the end it is always Shah who ends up as the winner. It doesn’t matter if the BJP has one legislator (Arunachal Pradesh) in the assembly or 105 (Karnataka); it is of no significance if the BJP is the single-largest party or has come a distant second (Goa), the finale always features a BJP chief minister in the chair claiming victory for democracy. (Such is his enormous power and magic that he’s now ended up making even BCCI free of the trouble of elections.)
Forgive the mixed filmography but Shah has a simple template every time he falls short of the magic number: “Round up the usual number of suspects, offer them a deal they can’t resist.”
By his own high standards, Haryana was a cinch for Shah. To begin with, the BJP already had 40 seats in its pocket. If its tally were around 25, if the Congress had touched 45, he would have had no choice but to break the rival group, make some of its legislators quit, lean on the governor, enforce by-polls in the state and get a BJP government sworn-in. In comparison, choosing between Kanda was Chautala was easier than getting his son elected as the de-facto boss of the BCCI.
Six legislators — five BJP rebels who won as independent candidate and a one from the INLD — had already pledged their support to the BJP, taking its tally to 46 in the 90-member House. To form a stable government, the BJP needed just one more. Consider the cornucopia of choices before the BJP for a single seat. It had the choice to either pocket Kanda or strike a deal with Dushyant Chautalas fledgling Jananayak Jantantrik Party (JJP) that has won 10 seats in the 90-member House.
Kanda, as we all know by now, is accused of abetting the suicide of an air-hostess who worked for his private airline. Later, the girl’s mother also hanged herself, alleging that she was ending her life because of harassment by Kanda, who was the home minister of Haryana when the first case was reported.
Chautala, similarly, has his own woes. His entire clan, including grandfather Om Prakash and father Ajay, are currently serving a 10-year sentence for their role in a teacher-recruitment scam. Several other cases of amassing assets disproportionate to income are pending in the court.
People with smaller skeletons in their cupboards have easily wilted under the BJP’s gaze in the past. Kanda and the Chautalas, in comparison, had been sitting on their private necropolises. Like in a political swayamwar, it was Shah’s prerogative to choose an eager groom.
Kanda seemed to be an easy pick — he would have likely settled for a ministerial berth or just the promise of a ‘go-slow’ policy on his pending case. The backlash on social media made the BJP distance itself from Kanda. Chautala, in contrast, was more buck for the same bang — he had to be appeased with the deputy CM’s post. But, then, when you are Amit Shah, you know that every circumstantial coalition partner is a potential Mehbooba Mufti. In the end, Shah always takes back much more than he gives.
Speaking of Mufti reminds us that the new alliance in Haryana is exactly an encore of the Jammu and Kashmir elections. In 2014, the BJP had campaigned in the Valley with its grouse against ‘Baap-beti ki sarkar’ (government run by Muftis) and the Muftis had fought the polls to keep the BJP out of Kashmir. In the end, both formed a coalition whose effects have been chilling.
In Haryana, the BJP vowed to wipe out the Chautalas, the Chautalas promised to end the autocratic, arrogant, anti-people government run by Manoharlal Khattar. Now, they have carved up Haryana between them.
The Chautalas, let’s not forget, have had a history of being fond of power than principles. In 1989, the patriarch of the party, Tau Devi Lal Chaudhary, had stunned former Prime Minister Chandrashekhar by secretly allaying with his rival VP Singh. A few months later, Tau had stung Singh and returned to Chandrashekhar, helping him break the party and become the PM with support from the Congress. A few decades later, his son OP Chautala had allied with the BJP after opposing it in several rounds of elections. So, the Chautalas are known to swing with the direction of the wind.
With rivals like these, you can’t blame Shah for being the winner in every election. As Shakespeare never said: “To buy their greed, or make them wilt with fear—that’s the question.”