ndsharma's blog

Tears of frustration

Posted on: June 25, 2009

The Mock Turtle sighed deeply, and drew the back of one flapper
across his eyes. He looked at Alice, and tried to speak, but for
a minute or two sobs choked his voice. `Same as if he had a bone
in his throat,’ said the Gryphon: and it set to work shaking him
and punching him in the back. At last the Mock Turtle recovered
his voice, and, with tears running down his cheeks, he went on
again: — (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)

Alice was moved by Mock Turtle’s tears. At least so are we told by Lewis Carroll, the author of the immortal fable. But Sonia Gandhi remained immune to Arjun Singh’s copious tears shed in front of cameras. All that the septuagenarian leader was begging through his tears at that stage was to instruct Congress candidate for Sidhi Indrajeet Kumar Patel to step down in favour of Arjun Singh’s daughter Veena Singh who had entered the fray on the last day of filing nomination papers. Patel is also like a household member for Arjun Singh but he has had enough already — MLA for seven times and minister in the Digvijay Singh government, besides many other important positions during the Arjun Singh, Motilal Vora and Digvijay Singh regimes.
Age, it appears, has taken over Arjun Singh. That’s why one of the most ambitious politicians in the country has been reduced to crying publicly just because his daughter, a non-political entity, was denied the ticket for Lok Sabha by the Congress party. Or, the tears may have been the decades-long accumulation of his frustrations. He is nearly eighty now, not in the pink of health and must have lost all hope of ever achieving his ambition of occupying the highest post in the government.
His hope, and ambition, was kept alive all these decades by Mauni Baba, a Godman of Ujjain, whose past is as obscure as his ashram where only the privileged few are admitted. Arjun Singh had been a frequent visitor to his ashram. Mauni Baba was said to have always written on the slate “rajyog” for Singh. The Baba does not speak as he had taken a vow of silence (maun). Hence, the appellation Mauni Baba.
Arjun Singh received a shock (though he did not shed any tears then) when P.V.Narasimha Rao was retrieved from oblivion after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination and made Prime Minister, with the approval of Sonia Gandhi. Narasimha Rao was then not a Member of Parliament and had made Arjun Singh the Leader of the House till he was elected to Lok Sabha. Even after that, Arjun Singh remained Number Two (till he quit the cabinet). That was the closest that Arjun Singh had gone to fulfilling his ambition.
But he was not satisfied. Before the Narasimha Rao government was a year-old, Arjun Singh was talking about a “realignment of political forces” which, he told a news agency in an interview, would be very right and healthy (development) for the centrist and left-of-the-centre forces to come together to evolve a broad consensus on national issues. Then came the crux of his interview: “I will like to become the rallying point of the view that Congress should not cut away from its real moorings and remain firmly committed to the ideals of self-reliance, perceived by our great leaders and to our basic ethos”.
He apparently expected others to take the initiative and make him the rallying point but there was none. When the Babri issue became hot, some of his colleagues in the party including then Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh, were said to have advised him to take the plunge and become a rallying point for the secular forces. He hesitated. When he did quit the cabinet, and the Congress, a few years later, it was too late. (His role at the time of the Babri demolition still remains a mystery. He was asked by the Prime Minister four days before the demolition to go and personally see if then Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh’s claim of foolproof security around the mosque was correct. Arjun Singh went to Lucknow, had a tete a tete with Kalyan Singh and returned to Delhi without even visiting Ayodhya or Faizabad).
His quitting the cabinet and the Congress must have been an act of utter desperation because he had done it on the fifth day of his mother’s death. No devout Hindu – and Arjun Singh is a devout Hindu from all appearances — takes any major initiative at least till after 13 days of a death in the family. When a journalist asked him about it at the “terahavin” (the thirteenth day shraddha ceremony) of his mother at his Churhat house, all that Arjun Singh said was that he would come to Bhopal the next month and say whatever he had to say. He did not visit Bhopal for a long time after that.
A curious aspect of Arjun Singh’s actions in that period was his ambivalent attitude towards Sonia Gandhi. Even while out of the Congress, he advertised his loyalty to Sonia Gandhi. At the same time, he was demanding punishment to the recipients of the Bofors pay-off, knowing full well that the Bofors scam was the last thing that Sonia wanted to hear about. Singh told a TV channel in February 1995 that the investigation in the Bofors case should be expedited. “Some names of beneficiaries have already come out and action should be taken against them in accordance with the Indian laws. When some more names come, action should be initiated against them also.”
Once he was out of the Congress, even his ardent supporters in the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) in Madhya Pradesh, barring half a dozen or so, refused to go with him; though he, along with his MLA son Ajay Singh, camped in Bhopal and contacted each one of them individually. Worse still, the voters of Satna, who had elected him in 1991, placed him in the third position, after the BSP and BJP candidates in 1996.
After his failed Congress (Tiwari) experiment, Arjun Singh went back to the Congress to wait for his rajyog. He contested for Lok Sabha from Hoshangabad constituency in 1998. An eminent section of the media reported during the interval between the polling and the counting of votes that there was going to be a hung parliament and Arjun Singh had emerged as the consensus candidate of the non-BJP parties for the post of Prime Minister. When the results came, Arjun Singh had suffered what was the most ignominious defeat of his life, losing in all the eight Assembly segments of the Hoshangabad Lok Sabha constituency.
When the time did come, Sonia Gandhi showed little consideration for his loyalty, experience, commitment, age, and above all, failing health and chose, instead, Manmohan Singh (whom Arjun Singh considered more unfit than Narasimha Rao) to be appointed as the Prime Minister. Not only that, she did not even make him Number Two, the slot was allotted to Pranab Mukherjee. He has since given vent to his frustrations in various ways — such as showing concern for the minorities, the other backward classes, and the internal democracy in the Congress, etc., but nothing moved the Lady of 10, Janpath. Having resigned to his fate, he came down to a humble request: just give the party ticket to my daughter. Even that was not accepted. What an agony it would be for the “ordinary soldier” of the Congress party to campaign for the Congress candidate in Sidhi (as he had said he would do) against his daughter whom he has groomed as his political heir and wants to see in Parliament in his lifetime.


4 Responses to "Tears of frustration"

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June 2009
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Justice should not be cloistered

Justice is not a cloistered virtue: she must be allowed to suffer the scrutiny and respectful, even though outspoken, comments of ordinary men.

— Lord Atkin in a contempt case in 1936


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