In John Milton’s celebrated epic poem Paradise Lost, Satan, thrown into the depths of hell, finds a way to organize his followers and create chaos before getting revenge on God for banishing him by destroying the newly-created Earth and mankind.
The current desperation of India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), keen to haul itself from the abyss of two consecutive election defeats, reminds me in some ways of Milton’s villain and his dishonourable tactics. Using all the weapons at its disposal, the BJP continues to abuse its political power by stalling one legislative and parliamentary matter after another.
Why? Mainly to sully the image of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and score points over the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government, which is struggling to cope with a slew of corruption charges. As I’ve said before, it appears to have little to do with trying to find promising alternatives for the people.
But there’s a question of hypocrisy here—one might have sympathized more with the BJP’s disruptive politics if the party itself was clean. But when the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government was in power from 1998-2004, it too was rocked by numerous scandals. More recently, in states across the country, the principal opposition party is also sheltering allegedly corrupt ministers. Karnatka state is a classic example. Its Chief Minister Bookanakere Siddalingappa Yeddyurappahas has come under fire for alleged financial misdeeds and misuse of power, including selling government land to his sons at prices far below its true value and employing ministers involved in illegal mining activities (who have allegedly secured profits amounting to millions of dollars).
It’s clear that corruption has become the major issue facing India today, with much of the public viewing it as the biggest obstacle to progress. Sadly, it’s not just the opposition that seems to be mired in corruption—the Singh-led government, for example, acted too slowly when scandal hit last year’s Commonwealth Games preparations, and he also dithered too long before removing the chief minister of Maharashtra, who was found to be entangled in a housing scam in Mumbai.
Still, to his credit, Singh has shown some guts by sending a colleague to jail, and he also appears to have tried to take some concrete steps towards tackling corruption. In addition, he has also highlighted the need for state funding of elections, an issue that addresses what is likely at the root of most of the political corruption in India today.
There's no doubt such steps are just palliatives and not a cure. Electoral reforms are still badly needed to address political corruption in India, while restructuring of the political bureaucracy with various checks and balances will also be necessary if India is to move forward.
But although the BJP’s ongoing attempts to destroy the credibility of the current prime minister and his government may have met with some success, Indians are not nearly as naïve as the Adam and Eve of Milton’s poem. They will likely know a duplicitous and divisive agenda when they see one.