The dog days of India’s bizarre summer of politics
Perhaps the government’s decision to push back the opening of the upcoming monsoon session of parliament was not the best idea. For as the dog days of the sub-continent’s sweltering summer drag on, the parliament-less politicians sweat from the sublime to the ridiculous in the baking heat.
From the haphazard ensemble of senior ministers that flocked to New Delhi’s airport to greet yoga guru turned social activist Swami Ramdev with more fanfare than is reserved for visiting heads of state, to the current conspiracy swirling New Delhi surrounding espionage chewing gum found in the finance minister’s private chambers, it has been a bizarre summer for politics fuelled by the hungry media in the world’s largest democracy.
Kapil Sibal, as Human Resource and Development minister, could have spent his summer break drawing up plans to overhaul an education sector that looks dangerously inadequate to deal with the demographic dividend of millions of young Indians that New Delhi likes to trumpet. Instead, he spent his days holed up in five-star hotels begging Ramdev not to stop eating, and playing it coy in press conferences after quietly ignoring veteran activist Anna Hazare’s demands for a stronger anti-graft bill.
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who has seen a series of economic data releases over the past month pour cold water on optimistic growth prospects, spent the majority of his summer trying to chair what appeared to be most unruly meetings on the anti-graft legislation, but has stolen the headlines recently with a mind-boggling story involving government secrets, ministerial rivalries and old-school espionage — all bonded together with chewing gum.
With TV channels and opposition politicians dubbing it “India’s Watergate”, and political figures from across the spectrum weighing in on the sticky mess, there appears little evidence to go on than a few errant pieces of gum stuck under various desks in Mukherjee’s chambers. With the minister himself telling the media to take their conspiracy theories elsewhere, it appears more a case of unhygienic office visitors than dastardly undercover spies.
Outside of the cabinet, the summer bug spread as the mercury rose.
Opposition party MP Gopinath Munde came over all funny and threatened to defect to the Congress party, keeping us all on tenterhooks for a few days until he decided that life was actually better where he was.
Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj danced a merry jig at an all-night protest against corruption, and then was shocked to see the media running stories on her fancy footwork rather than her politics.
Then Congress spokesperson Janardhan Dwivedi almost got beaten up by a shoe-wielding fake journalist, before ruling party secretary Digvijay Singh embarked on a one-man “Rahul Gandhi for Prime Minister” campaign, as if he forgot that Manmohan Singh existed.
For the record, India’s Prime Minister has been relatively quiet over the recess, which, while attracting some criticism, looks to have been an inspired decision in light of his colleagues’ antics. Same goes for party President Sonia Gandhi, who reportedly escaped from the madhouse for a relaxed Italian retreat.
And it’s not like there are more pressing issues to be concerned with. Inflation looms like a dark cloud over the India shining story, POSCO’s Orissa headache and the ongoing protests regarding land acquisition in Uttar Pradesh scream for a rethink on land laws, and more and more people are taking to the streets to voice their anger at the ruling class. Perhaps they are too busy talking about chewing gum to notice.
India’s noisy democracy can sometimes render parliament more of a shouting circus than a debating chamber, but perhaps the powers that be are safer inside, rather than out. Maybe it’s time to get back to work.