The New Rule: Your family is fair game, my family is sacrosanct

Not only is there no accountability on part of ministers, there is also brazen and open bullying, successful attempts to obfuscate real issues, personal attacks, and then to top it all, play victim

Union minister Smriti Irani barks at the Opposition in Lok Sabha
Union minister Smriti Irani barks at the Opposition in Lok Sabha
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Ranjona Banerji

In 2015, Union minister Rajnath Singh had stated that there will be no resignations in the BJP government at the Centre: “this is not the UPA”. That was during the whole Lalit Modi kerfuffle. Singh indicated a decision which has remained steadfast from that BJP government to this one, re-elected in 2019.

No one in this government will take responsibility for anything at all.

Whether Singh was supposed to reveal this or not, in the tumultuous times that have followed since – for us the citizens, not for the ruling party and government – the policy has stuck fast. The consistent line has been: We do not know, we have no data, this or that is not happening and we are not to blame because it is all the fault of someone else.

None of India’s Opposition parties took this clear indication on board.

And that is one of the reasons why they are fumbling today.

For years, a touchstone point for responsibility has been the resignation in November 1956 of the then Union railway minister Lal Bahadur Shastri. He had resigned earlier that year after a railway accident in Mahbubnagar in August, but Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru persuaded him to take it back. After another accident in Ariyalur when 144 people died, Shastri resigned again and insisted that the resignation be accepted and that he be allowed to “go quietly”.

This need to take “moral responsibility” for something that happens under your watch was lauded in that old India.

Obviously, those days are long gone.

The degradation to no responsibility and no ethics – I baulk at using the term “morality” – has been slow but it appears to have now taken full control.

Watching the ruling party in Parliament and the inability of the opposition parties and the bulk of the media to either counter or parse this change in the political climate, provides some clues as to where we are now.

I will stop now and doff my hat to all my learned liberal friends steeped in the contemporary history of India. Yes, it is true that if you trawl through our recent past, you will find several examples where politicians of all hues have no ethics, morality and no sense of responsibility. I salute you on your unrelenting efforts to provide a totalitarian state with examples of why they have the right to be totalitarian.

That said, human nature being what it is, what we have to actually look at is the scale of decay.

And this week’s events in Parliament provide us with a clue.

Not only is there no accountability, there is also brazen and open bullying, successful attempts to obfuscate the actual issues, personal attacks and then, most masterfully of all, play victim if there is any sort of counter at all.

This is the most superb manipulatory tactic of all.

The rules of the game are changed while you’re playing it. If you’re stuck in the distant past, you’ve had it. If you’re stuck in the recent past, you’ve had it.

The only way is to play the same game as you see it being played out in front of you.

The chances of victory however are tipped against you.

This is because there are clearly two sets of rules on which you can be judged.

If you have the power, all tactics are forgiven. You will compared – fraudulently – to some past historical character and his rules for rulers.

If you don’t have the power, your whole family history will be dragged out because someone in your past did something wrong. Or you yourself did something in your past.

When you are in power, the past is wiped clean. Except of course the distant and often mythical past. Not even actual mythology but new inventions. That is why a banker who writes fantasy myths was put in charge of cultural “exchanges”.

That is, exchange existing culture for lies.

Given such tactics, it is not surprising that India’s opposition parties are struggling to find appropriate responses to the ruling party’s behaviour.

In the current incident for instance, which is somewhat confused between one possibly sexist remark by a Congress MP and charges of alleged illegal business practices against the daughter of a Union minister, the high decibel levels and manufactured outrage of the Treasury benches have won over everything else. Even the apology of the Congress MP.

Those who have openly declared that they will never take responsibility by resigning can shamelessly demand that Sonia Gandhi take responsibility for her MP’s remarks.

Add to this the new rule that while your family is fair game, my family is sacrosanct.

We’re already sunk by the total incompetence of the totalitarians when it comes to governance matched by their supreme success at spreading social division and hatred.

And if someone doesn’t wake up soon, there is no political rescue rope either.

(Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. Views are personal)

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