Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Waffle at BJP National Executive meeting

[Update at the end]

The conventional assessment of the BJP National Executive meeting (June 20-21) is that its primary purpose of providing members with an opportunity to let off post-election steam has been achieved. This will put an end to trading of charges and levelling of allegations. It will be back to business as usual.

It is also being claimed (and I endorse this partially) that those who have been cavilling against the party’s ideology and its core idea, Hindutva, have been silenced. Ideology shall continue to enjoy primacy and Hindutva shall remain the guiding force.

Third, niggling doubts about the leadership issue have been put to rest. The party has asserted the principle of ‘democratic centralism’ and this is the way it shall be. Never mind what the party constitution says about electing leaders from bottom up.

My assessment differs on all these counts and more.

The unabashed finger-pointing that was witnessed marks a departure from the past when sobriety was the norm during National Executive meetings. Little or no purpose has been served by the mutual recrimination that marked the discussions till Sunderlal Patwa intervened with an emotional speech.

Patwa’s intervention may have forced an end to the ugly trading of charges, including between Shahnawaz Hussein and Maneka Gandhi, and diverted attention from the points raised by Arun Shourie, but the internecine war is by no means over. At best it is tactical retreat, not even temporary truce.

It is a pity that two ‘leaders’, whom LK Advani referred to as “two eminent Muslim colleagues of ours”, were allowed to adopt an abrasive tone and level all kinds of charges while others were disallowed to raise issues that are much more fundamental for the party’s well-being.

But I guess it is useful to promote the fiction that the BJP lost the election because of what Varun Gandhi said (or did not say) in Pilibhit. That way, the real reasons shall remain swept under the carpet.

[Sushil Modi in his intervention mentioned that Hindutva upsets the JD(U) and could strain the BJP-JD(U) alliance in Bihar. That’s as unconvincing as Naveen Patnaik’s claim that he parted company with the BJP because of the violence in Kandhamal. If Nitish Kumar is convinced that he can win a majority on his own he will part company with the BJP: Nobody likes to share power. A section of the JD(U) feels that an alliance with the Congress makes better sense because it would fetch political returns at the Centre here and now.]

Here is a fact that should have been the subject of serious discussion but was ignored by the National Executive: Of the sitting MPs in the 14th Lok Sabha who contested this year’s election, only 37 have been re-elected. In 2004, nearly a hundred sitting MPs of the BJP lost the election.

It would be absurd to suggest that barring 37 sitting MPs the remaining lost the 2009 election because of Varun Gandhi’s alleged inflammatory comments or a harsh and narrow interpretation of Hindutva. I don’t think there is any evidence to suggest that Hindutva was even mentioned during their campaign, leave alone giving it a sinister twist.

The reasons why such a large number of sitting MPs lost are four-fold:

. Poor track record of the individuals;
. Poor organisational back-up;
. Poor campaigning at the constituency level; and,
. Poor selection of candidates.

The BJP obviously does not want to discuss these issues as that would result in quite a few red faces at the high table. Patwa has saved them from acute embarrassment.

Second, there is no clarity as yet on either ideology or Hindutva.

Both LK Advani and Rajnath Singh stressed on the inclusiveness of Hindutva and how it militates against bigotry and fanaticism. That’s a nice thought. But what does it stand for?

. LK Advani said “BJP’s understanding of Hindutva is fully in accord with the unanimous judgement given by the 3-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court on December 11, 1995.”

. Rajnath Singh said “Hindutva … has a sense of respect and a place for everyone and it is a concept of co-existence. It is this cultural consciousness which has made Hindutva so benevolent and flexible.”

. The Political Resolution moved and drafted by Ravi Shankar Prasad said, “Hinduism or Hindutva is not to be understood or construed narrowly confined only to religious practices or expressed in extreme forms. It is indeed related to the culture and ethos of the people of the India, depicting the way of life of the Indian people.”

The Indian people’s “way of life” has nothing to do with politics or political campaigns to secure state power. If Hindutva is only what the Supreme Court thinks it is, then it should not be the political creed of any party, least of all the BJP.

The political resolution bizarrely equates Hinduism with Hindutva. This was best avoided. Hinduism is about faith, which is by definition narrow and exclusive. Hindutva is about political mobilisation, which has to be inclusive and all-embracing.

The party should have said:

Hindutva is rooted in India’s cultural and civilisational ethos, of which faith (Hinduism, Islam or Christianity) is only one inter-changeable component; it is representative of India’s identity as an ancient nation and a modern nation state; it links India’s past with its present and mirrors its aspirations for a better future.

It defines Indianness or Bharatiyata. It is the cornerstone of cultural nationalism, the BJP's USP.

It is rooted in egalitarianism, tolerance and compassion. It celebrates democracy. It harmonises differences. It rests on the principle of justice to all, appeasement of none.

Some may perceive merit in waffle we heard at the National Executive meeting, but it will not help remove the confusion that prevails at all levels. The party needs to enunciate Hindutva for our times. I wonder when the BJP’s ‘Blair moment’ will come.

The BJP would have done itself some good had it used this National Executive meeting to also clarify a related point: Core issues of the party are not core elements of Hindutva, they are at best tangentially linked.

Abrogation of Article 370 is to do with integration of the States and Centre-State relations. Retaining Article 370 keeps open the issue of Jammu & Kashmir’s full and final integration with the Union of India and allows others to refer to it as ‘disputed territory’. It also accords to Jammu & Kashmir a special status that is denied to the other States of the Union. None of these is a key component of Hindutva.

Article 44 of the Constitution states: "The state shall endeavour to secure for citizens a uniform civil code.” This is primarily meant to uphold the republican principles of equality for all, irrespective of gender, religion and caste. It is also aimed at modernising Indian society by ridding it of regressive personal laws. Where does the demand for Uniform Civil Code fit into the concept of Hindutva?

By not separating these two core issues from the core of its ideology, the BJP has failed to put an end to the campaign of calumny by the ‘secular’ political establishment and the ill-informed sections of media. More importantly, it has missed an opportunity to remove misconception in the minds of its cadre.

Advani has talked about organisational weaknesses and the need to address them as well as expand the party’s base in States where it is almost non-existent. The “train compartment” mentality he has referred to is extremely relevant. Hopefully it applies to all in the higher echelons of the party.

As for strengthening the organisation and strategise for the next 20 years, it will require a mindset change across the board at the top: The needless craving for allies and alliances has to be replaced by determination and a can-do spirit.

Unfortunately, those who speak about it are also strong votaries of subjugating State units of the party to allies so that local leaders don’t grow in stature and want a place inside the “train compartment”.

A last point: States representatives at the meeting were unanimous and unambiguous in their praise for Narendra Modi. Every where he visited during the campaign, they said, the cadre were galvanised and supporters enthused. Nothing more need be said.

UPDATE 24/06/09:

. This whole differentiation of 'moderate', 'soft' and 'hard' Hindutva makes little sense. Hindtuva needs to be seen as a concept, an idea, the core of the party's belief and the base of its political positioning. The moment it begins to label Hindutva, it suggests a certain discomfort with everything that this idea stands for.

. There are some in the party who believe that to be one with 'Young India' they must ape the worst trait that manifests itself in urban India among those who feel embarrassed about being an Indian and describe themselves as 'global citizens', which is no more than an imaginary identity as opposed to an identity rooted in the soil of your motherland. Hence, the effort to disown and distance yourself from Hindutva.

. Young India, we must note, lives not only in cities but in villages and district towns. That Young India is not yet a deracinated lot.

. The BJP will (hopefully) never come to resemble a Congress dominated by beautiful people who adorn Page 3 and mesmerise the chattering classes.

. The 'aspirations' that are often referred to in connection with issues the BJP should address to widen its support base cannot exclude Hindu aspirations, especially the aspiration to be treated with honour and dignity in Hindu majority India. This is not about crude majoritarianism but the majority's right not to be treated shabbily and with contempt.

. My own view is that Muslims will never vote (or vote substantially) for the BJP. The Bharatiya Jana Sangh was shunned by the Muslims as a 'Hindu' party (Varun Gandhi wasn't born then); the BJP was and continues to be shunned as a 'Hindu party'. The BJP can stand on its head and do a double somersault and a twist-and-turn. There will be applause but no votes. So, let those in the BJP who keep on plugging the secular/Muslim line not waste their breath. Muslims will either consolidate behind the Congress (if the party is seen to be able to practice aggressive appeasement, eg, communal job and education quotas) or they will vote tactically to defeat the BJP. Muslims are believed to be the decisive factor in 54 Lok Sabha constituencies; by 2014, this number will further increase. The mullah and the masjid will ensure the breach is never bridged, not even if Vande Mataram is replaced with qawaali.

. Similarly, the BJP should get rid of its diffidence for being seen as a 'Right-wing party'. Or else it should either disband of fashion itself as a clone of the Congress, a 'B' team, so to say. There is no halfway house on this front. To be 'Right' does not mean to be wrong. Nor is conservative or 'Right-wing' politics 'unenlightened'.

. Meanwhile, in the context of short-sighted political alliances, the BJP should ponder over what it has lost by striking an alliance with the Gorkha Jana Mukti Morcha in Darjeeling district of West Bengal. What it has gained is one Lok Sabha seat, limited to this election.

These are some stray thoughts I felt I should share with you after going through my notes on the National Executive.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

BJP leaders feel the heat: A volcano about to erupt?

BJP’s deputy leader in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, made an interesting remark in Bhopal on Monday (June 15) while refusing to comment on the apparent mess that prevails in the party at the moment. It seems, going by media reports, that she described the situation as similar to that of a ‘volcano’ and how the smallest of ‘sparks’ could lead to an ‘explosion’.

Despite much effort, I have not been able to get the exact quote of what she said. Did she describe the situation as ‘bisphotak’ (explosive)? Or did she use the word ‘jwalamukhi’ (volcano)? The media versions are conflicting.

If the situation is ‘explosive’, then things could ‘explode’ due to two reasons: External instigation (a ‘spark’) or internal pressure at the top or any level. If it is similar to that of a rumbling ‘volcano’, then it could explode due to extreme pressure from down below – that’s how volcanic eruptions happen.

Which brings me to the question: What’s happening in the BJP? Is pressure building up at the top? Or is the party leadership (LK Advani, Rajnath Singh, et al) feeling the pressure building up at the ground level, that is, among cadre?

There is reason to believe the cadre is getting restless. Vague talk of ‘introspection’ and ‘chintan baithak’ to assess the BJP’s electoral performance has not served to assuage feelings of despondency among karyakartas, disarray in the ranks and disunity at the top.

These feelings have only hardened in recent days with Jaswant Singh raising the three Ps and Yashwant Sinha dramatically resigning from all party posts to ‘set an example for others’, force a discussion on the need to link performance and reward, and generally seize the ‘moral high ground’.

The entire debate over the need for debate within the party is increasingly getting mired in personality issues, ego problems and the despair which comes with successive electoral defeat.

Two points merit attention.

First, after the electoral debacle of 2004 (which was far less expected than the defeat of 2009), there were, if memory serves me right, a series of meetings, at least two of them at exotic locations, to discuss the ‘way forward’. After much deliberation, the ‘way forward’ was decided and the course charted. Surely this is not the destination the party had set its eyes on.

Second, clearly those deliberations were worthless sessions of mutual ego massage and the decisions that followed were naturally flawed.

So, what is the guarantee, cadre are asking, that this time it will be any different? After all,

. The top leaders seem to be in no hurry to roll up their sleeves and sit down with facts and figures;
. There is great pretence of business as usual – you don’t have to go around in sack cloth and ashes but surely there should be visible concern?
. A two-day National Executive, of which half-a-day will go in presidential and valedictory speeches and another half-a-day on passing resolutions (which have increasingly become utterly meaningless and not worth the paper they are written upon), is the best way to fob off early, elaborate and genuine debate.

There is a view that the National Executive need not have been called at this point of time. Instead, the leaders should have gone into retreat for threadbare discussions and come up with a roadmap to rejuvenate the party and recover lost ground, as well as expand its geographical spread.

There is also the other view: Hold a National Executive meeting, give members an opportunity let off steam in a controlled enviroment, and then get back to doing nothing.

I feel that the first course would have been preferable. But before coming up with a conclusive roadmap, there should be intensive interaction with State units of the party, not limited to office-bearers in the capital cities but also with district units and the largest possible cross-section of party members.

Yes, the entire task would take at least three months, but the move could be initiated right away with a predetermined deadline, say by October, to come up with a tentative roadmap. The National Executive could have then deliberated on it, fine-tuned it, and taken it to the National Council for approval and implementation.

No, it won’t happen that way because over the past decade decision-making has become a hazy process with our own versions of Clifford, Arlington, Buckingham, Ashley and Lauderdale deciding for all the stake-holders in the BJP what should really be decided at a larger, participatory forum. There is reasonable doubt about it being any different now.

Unlike others who have attributed profound reasons for the BJP’s miserable performance, I feel the causative factors are not that difficult to locate and are known to those who lead the party. I would list them as:

. Organisational problems – the party is in a shambles in most States, especially in those where it has been in alliance with others;
. Wrong choice of candidates – in at least 50-odd constituencies people voted against the party’s candidate and not the party per se;
. A meandering, directionless campaign with no clearly focussed ideas and over-reliance on issues on which the BJP’s record in governance is nothing to write home about;
. Failure to anticipate voting preference/pattern in crucial States like Maharashtra (where MNS’s ability to split votes was grievously under-estimated) and Uttar Pradesh (where the shift in caste alignments was fatally overlooked or not sensed) reflect disconnect with grassroots.
. Letting the media aggressively set the agenda and timidly responding to it, instead of the other way round; and,
. Giving the heave-ho to the concept of collective leadership.

I wonder if Varun Gandhi’s alleged ‘hate speech’ or the reprehensible behaviour of Pramod Muthalik, or, for that matter, the Kandhamal violence, had the kind of impact as is being made out.

After all, in Karnataka the BJP has done exceedingly well; in Orissa the BJD would have gone its own way irrespective of what happened or didn’t happen. I think it’s rather far-fetched to suggest that voters in Rajasthan or Madhya Pradesh were influenced by events in Karnataka and Orissa.

Since everybody harps on ‘good governance’ as the over-riding factor which determines voter preference, we should look at Uttarakhand where the BJP has governed well but has been routed in all five seats. Conversely, in Orissa, where Naveen Patnaik has little or nothing to show by way of tangible achievements over 10 years and social development indices remain abysmally low, the BJD has swept the polls.

It’s unfashionable to say so, but I think the outcome in Bihar (which had very low polling – down to 44.3 per cent from 58.02% in 2004) had more to do with getting the caste arithmetic right, Nitish Kumar tactically decimating the RJD’s support base and the Congress-RJD-LJP alliance falling apart, than with ‘good governance’.

As for Delhi, the real story why the party is on the verge of becoming inconsequential can be summed up in one sentence: The BJP’s inability to figure out the demographics of a cosmopolitan city.

The BJP won in 116 seats without aggressively promoting Hindutva; it lost in other places not because it was shy to promote Hindutva; it got its sums wrong because the figures fed to the leadership were horrendously misleading, apart from the reasons cited above.

So, let us not target Hindutva and make it into a bogeyman or an object of derision. On the contrary, the higher ideals of Hindutva – summed up by a stirring slogan no longer heard, ‘Justice for all, appeasement of none’, the essence of Ram Rajya whose contours are defined by egalitarianism, enlightenment and equity – should be reiterated forcefully.

Just because Hindutva is mocked at by the deracinated urban elite does not mean the BJP should disown its own identity. If Hindutva was relevant in the past, it can be made relevant for our times and the future, too.

What all this adds up to is the need for extensive groundwork to collect empirical data, process it intelligently to arrive at possible reasons why the BJP failed, and work on a roadmap to reach firm goals. Of course, this would simultaneously require rejuvenation of the party and regaining the cutting edge which propelled it ahead of the Congress in three successive general elections.

This is a gigantic exercise. And poses a litmus test for the leadership. If it fails, the BJP's situation would be akin to sitting atop a volcano with lava gushing up.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Blame game begins in BJP; knives are out!

[Update posted at the end.]

The blame-game has begun in the BJP. Those who are directly responsible for the party’s disastrous electoral performance are desperately trying to blame others lest their role comes under scrutiny.

The proverbial knives are out. On Wednesday (June 10) evening the ‘core group’ of the BJP met at LK Advani’s residence. There is nothing called the ‘core group’. Membership is extended (and/or withdrawn) depending on whether the ‘core group’ is supposed to massage bruised egos, indulge in collective hand-wringing, participate in self-flagellation, provide for limited expression of contrarian views, or snuff out voices of dissent.

On Wednesday, the ‘core group’ met for a bit of everything, so those who met were quite representative of the BJP as it is today, which is like a fish that has begun to rot head downward. [When we Bengalis buy fish, we check the gills; hence my choice of this metaphor.]

What was discussed at Wednesday’s meeting is really irrelevant and inconsequential. At the end of the meeting, everybody decided to meet again. As always, no decisions were taken. So much for the slogan, “Determined Leader, Decisive Government”. It’s not surprising that voters were not persuaded by it.

Jaswant Singh has made bold to raise the three ‘P’s – Prabandh, Parinam and Puraskar -- which should have engaged the party leadership after the May electoral debacle, but shall never be discussed.

Meanwhile, Sudheendra Kulkarni, 'Political Advisor, BJP', who undid the BJP’s election campaign in 2004 with the ‘India Shining’ slogan and fashioned the 2009 campaign which has taken the BJP to a low of barely-above-100 mark, has written an article for Tehelka, the magazine which tarred the NDA Government, causing it irreparable damage, and is now the favourite perch of those who inhabit the BJP’s inner courtyard, blaming all and sundry except those who are to blame. [Anil Chawla, his classmate at IIT Bombay, has circulated an 'open letter' by way of a rejoinder to Sudheendra Kulkarni's article.]

Sudheendra Kulkarni has made the following points:

. Everybody should own up for the party’s defeat, collectively and individually.

. Disunity among the party leaders contributed to its electoral failure.

. The Parivar (I wish he had shown courage by naming RSS) hobbled the campaign and made LK Advani look weak.

. Negativism ruined the BJP’s chances.

. Hindutva is the real obstacle between victory and defeat.

. BJP has failed to expand its ‘limited’ social base.

. Allies have been abandoned and new alliances haven’t been forged.

Here are my responses:

. The moral responsibility for the defeat is entirely that of those who led from the front. If they failed to enthuse voters, it is because they did not come across as inspirational leaders. The reasons for the credibility-deficit do not merit elaboration.

. Having abandoned the practice of collective leadership and placed individuals above party, not to speak of promoting those who thrive on divisions, groupism and factionalism, no purpose is served by pointing a finger at ‘disunity’ at the top.

. The RSS – as well as the greater Parivar – did nothing to hobble the campaign. The Sangh endorsed LK Advani as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, instructed affiliate organisations to join the campaign, and made every effort to bolster him through word and deed.

. Negativism was the core of the campaign fashioned by Sudheendra Kulkarni and his team vested with over-riding powers. [They came up with a real election-winner: After coming to power, LK Advani's Government will gift a smart phone to every BPL family.]

. Hindutva is the new bogeyman. So blame it for everything wrong under the Sun. There’s a problem though. Even if the BJP were to abandon Hindutva – the Hindu ethos which once made the BJP stand out from others, the pride in India’s cultural heritage and civilisational identity, the unifying concept of nationhood – Muslims wouldn’t vote for the party. Not even after reading 'Advaniji at a glance (in Urdu)' and finding that all mention of Vande Mataram has been erased from the BJP Website by the 'laptop brigade' which was supposed to lead the party to a stunning victory, but instead led it to a humiliating defeat. Fiction: Muslim disquiet with BJP can be resolved. Fact: Muslim hatred of BJP is visceral. Problem: How do you work around it?

. BJP’s failure to expand its social base is directly linked to its Pavlovian response to forging alliances. In every State the BJP has forged an alliance, it has moved from nothingness to nothingness, and not strength to strength. It began with Uttar Pradesh (BSP gained at BJP’s expense). It has been seen in Andhra Pradesh (TDP used BJP’s vote share, weakened the party and then abandoned it). In Orissa, BJD used BJP to consolidate its base and then cast it aside. In West Bengal TMC used BJP, plundered its organisational base and then denounced it as ‘communal’. In Punjab BJP has suffered on account of Akali Dal’s politics. In Bihar we shall witness a repeat of all this and more before the next Assembly election when JD(U) dumps BJP. The best way to stop new leaders emerging from the ranks (and thus posing a challenge to the entrenched leadership of the BJP) is to stump the party in the States by forging alliances and forcing local leaders to don sack cloth and ashes and become grovelling supplicants in the courts of the allies.

Elections come and go but parties remain, at least those who are in politics for more than power at any cost, now or never.

The BJP’s leadership is suffering from a disease called ‘last bus syndrome’: If it can’t catch this bus to power, then it will never get to be in power.

I am tempted to recall what LK Advani once told me, many years ago, before another general election: “As things stand, we could win enough seats to come to power. But I often ask myself, are we prepared for power?”

* * * * * *
[This blog post was reproduced by rediff.com with the headline 'The knives are out in the BJP' on Thursday, June 11. The reader response is revealing. The BJP leadership would do well to glance through them, since those of the respondents living in India are voters.]


When I found that the link to 'Vande Mataram' had been dropped from the redesigned official Website of the BJP, I had immediately contacted Sudheendra Kulkarni (whose team oversaw the sprucing job) on telephone as well as sent him an e-mail. He expressed great surprise ('How can this be possible! We will immediately have it restored. Don't worry') and was gracious enough to promise early action.

That was about two months ago. Regrettably, nothing was done.

I pointed out the omission in a couple of my articles and column, but I guess the powers-that-be in the BJP were too busy to take note. Then I mentioned it again on this blog post.

Coincidentally, I happened to meet some office-bearers of the party on Thursday (June 11) evening, and one of them, who had seen my post as well as the version published by rediff.com, raised the issue. Everybody was aghast; some were livid; one senior office-bearer said he would raise the 'distortion' at the National Executive meeting.

Instructions were obviously issued subsequently to restore the original link to 'Vande Mataram'.

On Friday, lo and behold, the home page of the BJP Website had a link to 'VANDE MATARAM' -- the all caps display was touching, but not sufficiently so. When I clicked on the link, I found the text had been truncated to less than the 'official' sanitised version (broadcast by AIR) and curiously omitted the words 'Vande Mataram':

Sujalam , Sufalam, Malayj Sheetalam,

Sasyashyamalam, Mataram !

Shubhrajyotsna Pulakitayaminim,

Pullakusumita Drumadal Shobhinim,

Suhasinim, Sumadhur Bhashinim,

Sukhadam, Vardam, Mataram!

This makes no sense. In fact, it is a mockery of India's National Song.

Or does it reflect the hesitation of those in charge of the Website (I am told it is still being overseen by Sudheendra Kulkarni and his team) to post the full text and link it to an mpeg file of the traditional version, as it was in the earlier site, lest it offend the mullahs and blot the party's 'secular' credentials?

I am now told that a hunt is on for the original post and the related files. Let's wait and watch.

June 12, 2009.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

For BJP, ideology is irrelevant. So...

Those who resist the idea of the BJP returning to its ideological moorings argue that:
. Ideology is irrelevant in the 21st century;
. Ideology restricts 'flexibility';
. Ideology and mass politics are incompatible;
. Ideology ties the BJP to its core Hindu ethos; and, hence,
. Ideology causes an allergic rash among the BJP's allies.

(The allies are now reduced to the Shiv Sena, which has shifted from aggressive Hindu majoritarianism to opportunistic Marathi Manoos identity politics; Akali Dal, which remains committed to Khalsa identity politics; and the JD-U, whose politics is shaped by caste and communal identities, namely those of the EBCs, OBCs [Kurmis] and Muslims.)

The purpose of this blog post is not to elaborate on these points, but to underscore the real relevance of ideology: It acts as a restraining force, it serves as a moral compass, it binds you to probity and rectitude, it tempers a politician's penchant for pomp and splendour, it discourages abuse of power, it makes a party shame and shun the morally and physically corrupt.

And what happens when a party begins to dilute its commitment to ideology, distances itself from its core values and abandons morals and ethics to embrace that which is politically expedient, as the BJP has been doing since 1998?

. The party president is caught on camera accepting wads of notes.

. MPs, MLAs, Ministers are accused of having their snouts in the trough.

. Nepotism takes precedence over loyalty to the organisation and ability.

. MPs get caught in cash-for-question and MPLAD scams.

. An MP misuses his diplomatic passport for human trafficking.

[This is by no means a comprehensive list.]

And then when the moral slide gathers speed, stories like this appear in media:

The Times of India
Karnataka mantri spends Rs 20cr on son's shaadi
30 May 2009, TNN

BELLARY: This could easily be included in the list of the fattest weddings ever. Karnataka health minister B Sriramulu pulled out all the stops for the marriage of his 27-year-old MLA son (PTI says nephew), T H Suresh Babu, and is believed to have spent a whopping Rs 20 crore on the event.

Suresh, an MLA from Kampli reserved constituency, tied the knot with N Deepa, a middle class girl, with an extraordinary 40,000 people attending the mammoth ceremony at Bellary Cantonment on Thursday.

Four choppers to ferry VIPs from Bangalore to Bellary kept whirring in the sky all day. The wedding hall hummed with 500 air-conditioners and more than 200 chefs dished out a culinary extravaganza. Bangalore's political power shifted to this dusty sleepy district — including CM B S Yeddyurappa and his cabinet members. Also in attendance were top politicians from Andhra Pradesh.

Spanning 8 acres, the wedding arena had a huge palace-like shamiana and a dining hall to accommodate 5,000 people. There were also VIP and 'VVIP' halls.

Karnataka health minister B Sriramulu is learnt to have spent Rs 20 crore on the marriage of his MLA son, T H Suresh Babu.

All available lodges were booked for guests. Organizers made sure there was ample parking space even as 20 generator vehicles were used for back up. There was a choice of continental and Indian food and even though the reception area was jampacked, everything went smoothly.

VIPs were ushered in through a single door connecting two different halls while others were allowed to enter through the other side. Also, more than 100 ACs were fitted around the reception hall.

There were 130 responses to this news story posted on the Times of India's Website. Here's an unedited sample of what readers, who are also voters, had to say:

Sri,Bengaluru,says:Minister Sriramulu is a mining company owner who has earned crores in the last 5 years. To one estimate he earned crores a day when iron export to China was in peak. Need less to say the politicians should be model for others.

cpkaruppan,chennai,says:Advaniji, pl practice what you have preached. pl first find out how this minister got so much money-whether he paid incomtax! The Indian public did not take your word of bringing back the money from Swiss (banks) etc and that is why you have lost election. now is a chance to show you will practice what you preach!!!!!

Basavalingappa,Bellary,says:Loot the natural resources, exploit the situation & take shelter in god & wasteful rituals, parade ego... The message is who cares? Show must go on. The end result is poverty, conflict, violence & blame game for nothing. Who needs such gods & rituals?

thomas,bangalore,says:oh my god! shameless people.. wasting crores of rupees on nothing! instead he could have made the world a better (if not, at least a littttttle better) place with those 20 crores.

deeno,mumbai,says:Hahaha....Well PM Mr. Manmohan Singh now should ask a CBI to investigate and find out the source of income of the Minister. Normal people who pay tax are used in other's wedding. Black money for sure... 20 Cr. spend.. on Marriage..So many poor could have been fed..

Indian,Mumbai,says:Hahahaha, u think IT people will raid this minister. Forget the IT heads were also present there enjoying lavish wedding thrown by this corrupt minister.

bipin,uae,says:This shows how serious is his conviction towards serving the country and its people by blowing away such a huge amount of money in celebrations when millions are living in poverty. He should be brought to books by verifying the source of income by IT dept and penalised !

Setty,Bangalore,says:It is shame on the part of a clean party leader who is supposed to be model to others and going in a wrong way. It should have been condemned and discouraged by the party high command if they are really interested in giving good governance and maintain transparency. One should learn lesson from Late shri. Byre Gowda (ex. Minister) who performed his sons marriage in a very simple manner limiting the event only to his family members and said that it is a family function and not a public one. The rules and regulations and free advises in this country are only applicable for weak & hapless people and not for mighty persons. The Lokayukta's Net is not strong enough even to go near such mighty persons and only catching small fishes and make media publicity just to show their existence and of no use for the common man. God only has to take one more incarnation to clean this society for which let us all pray in the interest of coming generations. This 20 crores could have been spent for poor boys education especially in rural areas which could have been covered for thousands of people to make their fortunes bright.

narayana,muscat,says:since minsiters like musicians, sportsmen, cricketers, cinema people and other parasites do not produce one grain of rice / salt / a furniture , a home, a cloth or even 1 line of software code, they have got the money by virtual money creation techniques as opposed to creating money by positive value addition. So, why any one who survives on virtual money bother. It is only the hard working and earning tax payers who know the worth of even 1 rupee.

I do not know B Sriramulu and hence I would not question the source of his wealth. But we do know how people perceive such ostentatious display of wealth. And what they expect from the 'party high command'.

Unfortunately, the 'party high command' is not known to have taken a dim view of the event. With ideology at a discount, it couldn't have been any other way.

[My article in The Pioneer, June 4, 2009.]