Monday, July 30, 2007

Isn't it iron-ic?

Ram Gopal Varma's Aag is threatening to burn the silverscreen. There's no final word on whether Ramu has retained the dialogue Loha lohe ko kaatata hai (It takes iron to cut iron). Thakur Baldev Singh says that line as he sets a couple of thieves to catch Gabbar Singh son of Hari Singh son of Dashrath Singh. Singh vs Singh. In general political discourse, this wisdom is not just uttered but also used to perfection. It's called level-playing field.

We often hear it in the reservation debate. We see it when a bahubali (muscleman) is pitted against another in elections. When in doubt, level it out.

What else explains this coincidence that all three candidates for the post of Vice-president are Muslims? We have just installed our first woman President. Apart from the bitterness and mud-slinging, the contest between Pratibha Patil and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat would also be remembered for another fact: both were Shekhawat Rajputs. The UPA chose a Shekhawat to beat a Shekhawat. They offered various reasons, and there indeed were various reasons. The least spoken was that BJP's Bhairon Singh Shekhawat could demand caste loyalty from Rajput MPs and MLAs from all parties. Caste cuts across political lines. Pratibha Patil Shekhawat neutralised that possibility.

That bitter battle is over. We have a new vice-president to choose. The third front or UNPA put up Rashid Masood, a man of clean credentials, as its candidate. Both the ruling front (UPA) and the main Opposition (NDA) put up similarly accomplished candidates — Hamid Ansari and Najma Heptullah. No matter who wins the race, we will have a competent vice-president. Thank God for these mercies. It's also a heartening certainty that our next vice-president will be from India's biggest minority community. So far, so good.

What should trouble us is the crooked political judgment being delivered in hushed tones, "if we put up a candidate from another community, choosing one over the other would become a problem and it will lead to controversies." Some have to stay decidedly pro-Muslim and some others cannot afford to be. When the fight is among Muslims, the political class doesn't have to deal with a self-inflicted dilemma.

As I write this, BJP's Sushma Swaraj is calling for efforts from party men to dispel the "myth" that hers was an anti-minority party. The BJP, after all, has put up a minority candidate. In the same breath, she adds, Heptullah's candidature had nothing to do with her religion. It better not be so. Making her religion her USP is an insult to a person who, as its vice-chairperson has run Rajya Sabha for 17 years, and is now contesting for the chair.

There are few takers for either of Ms Swaraj's statements: that the BJP is not anti-minority and that Heptullah's nomination has nothing to do with her religion. So far, so bad.

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