With V.P. Singh’s resounding victory in the prestigious Allahabad Parliamentary constituency, two challenges now haunt Rajiv Gandhi. Both portend his doom and both are largely his own creations. The deepening crisis in the Punjab provides an interesting study in communalization of politics for narrow electoral gains, while the Congress (I) defeat is a public indictment of corruption in high places. Rajiv Gandhi has been judged in the people’s court and found guilty of corruption. Since Mr. V.P. Singh had made corruption as the central issue of his election and accused the government of involvement in corrupt defense deals, his victory is a stunning slap on the face of the Joint Parliamentary Committee that, in the most unashamed manner, had exonerated the Prime Minister and _ his lackeys. The clean chit issued by the JPC found no buyers and is back in their lap like the proverbial bad coin.

Mr. Singh has emerged as a crusader against corruption. No doubt, his campaign against the economic offenders cost him his Finance Minister ship and his investigations into bribes in defense deals cost him his Defense portfolio. By the former act, he got into trouble with the Congress Party bosses who were making millions through compromising Foreign Exchange Regulations, and by the latter, he exposed the Prime Minister’s involvement in the arms deals kickbacks. But the price that he paid for his daring acts, now, promises to be a very fruitful investment. His victory has launched him as the most potent contender for India’s number one post and Rajiv Gandhi faces in him the most serious challenge to his position.

However, the challenge in itself is not enough to uproot the strongly entrenched forces of corruption. It is not easy to overthrow money power, especially when it is reinforced by the State power. The fragmented opposition parties may or may not forge a united front but the forces of corruption, both at the political and bureaucratic level, are bound to get together to destroy the common enemy. Besides, Rajiv Gandhi will employ every conceivable villainy to maintain his position. Once again religious minorities in general and Sikhs in particular must prepare themselves for grim ordeals because the communal card still promises to pay rich dividends. Hindu fundamentalist organizations like Shiv Sena, RSS, Hindu Mahasabha, Rashtriya Hindu Manch etc. are hellbent on making India purely Hindu country and Rajiv can provide them with the necessary incentive by deploying paramilitary troops to facilitate genocidal attacks on the minorities.

The money power and the State machinery will also be used to keep the opposition fragmented. Opposition leaders of easy virtue will be purchased to sabotage the unity moves. To neutralize this powerful onslaught, Mr. Singh must persuade all the disillusioned persons that are still languishing in the dingy stables of the Congress Party to join his Jan Morcha. A vertical split in the Congress is absolutely necessary to break the spell cast by its evil witches manifested in corruption, nepotism, favoritism, exploitation, repression and communal intolerance.

Mr. Singh conducted his campaign with utmost simplicity which contrasted sharply with the extravagant style of the Congress. He was able to capture the imagination of the people with simplicity because of his unsoiled image and his determined crusade against corruption. Others in his flock cannot hope to succeed by simply following in his footsteps because they do not have his charisma. They need to develop resources to build up the necessary tempo. Mr. Singh introduced a refreshing moral tone that could be heard distinctly above the debased din of the Congress money power. He must strengthen this tone and scrupulously avoid politics of expedience. The temptation to play the communal card may, at times, appear too powerful to resist but the true statesmanship lies resisting it at all costs. Will he measure up to the task or turn out to be another “Raja” (Prince), full of sound and fury, signifying nothing? Only time will tell.

Article extracted from this publication >> June 24, 1988