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SBP – an ordeal through fire, 2004

By Sanjeev Sabhlok, extracted from e-mails of 7 and 12 July 2004

Like you, or probably more than you, I have remained personally confused about some aspects of what we have done as a party this year. We may differ on our views on which parties are ‘worth’ aligning with, but the very act of forming electoral alliances with parties that have in the past promoted socialism or communalism does not sound like “values-based and principled politics.”

We worked to formulate: That talks about the ideal Liberal party: “We do not enter into opportunistic alliances, with an eye purely on winning elections or staying in power. We will support policies/programmes of different parties on a case-to-case basis, to the extent that they are in line with the liberal ideology. That will be extent of our cooperation with other parties, and no pre-poll alliances will be entertained, nor post-poll coalitions with anyone else.” This, of course, was our wishful thinking.

In the end, politics seems to be the “art of the possible”. The National Executive empowered the President to evaluate the situation and take suitable decisions. With barely a few lakhs of rupees and nothing else, we could not have even contested one parliamentary seat seriously. Attempts were made, and continue to be made, to raise resources. So far, to little or no avail. If we do not have any resources worth talking about except the farmer’s movement, we can only leverage that movement. Objectively speaking therefore, the leverage that has been accomplished by Sh.Sharad Joshi in successfully obtaining a seat in Parliament, and possibly a dozen seats in the future assembly in Maharashtra, are achievements well beyond our “paper capability”. We are shooting well above our midget size. Could he have done even better? Don’t know.

This is a very confounding situation. In this process, ‘pure values’ as articulated above, have been compromised. At the same time, we have for the first time in 31 years a voice in Parliament. While we find that industrialists and the middle-classes continue to avoid association with this party, we have provided some token relief to the tens of thousands of farmers who have been looking forward to some resolution of their problems. Farmers are a constituency that needs representation. Should we have completely ‘committed collective suicide’ by contesting tens of parliamentary seats and losing all of them? Don’t think so.

My only hope is that we somehow reconcile to this complex situation at a personal level, knowing that Sh. Sharad Joshi did his very best under unbelievably difficult circumstances. But did we all do our best? If we did, our best has clearly not been good enough. If we can strengthen the party in the next three to four years, we could still go out to the 2009 elections with a leadership that believes we can stand alone and not get wiped out.

My confusion, particularly raised by erroneous press reports, has come through quite clearly for all to see, but my mind is at rest now. I do not feel any sense of guilt now about what we accomplished in January. The whole thing has some sobering learnings but also, on the upside, SBP has now become at least somewhat widely known in India.

Sh. Joshi entered a swamp and shines as a lotus in this terrible muck. We need to fight through this muck, persuade those with funds to support this party, and try to stand on our own feet the next time. 2009 will be with us soon.

Reconciling ideals with economic and political reality

I raised significant concerns last year on the ‘workshop list’ on the ethical issues raised by Rajaji’s aligning with Jan Sangh (the predecessor of BJP) in 1971, but SBP then did similar things in 2004. To me, both these events would be, in an ideal world, completely unacceptable. I did not wish to align with fanatics who erroneously call themselves Hindus, but I’m part of a group that did so, in 1971 and in 2004. So what should I do now? Give up politics as evil and withdraw?

I live in this world of reality, and to make a real difference to India’s millions, I cannot quibble the rest of my very short life away. These are the facts:

1. On an “evil” scale of 0 to 100, I would rate SBP as 1 against the Congress and BJP with “evil” scores of 99. I know the blood-sucking Congress very well through personal experience in government, and did not hear that BJP did anything differently. SBP is not even close to the beginning of evil in comparison to these monsters. Indeed, it is almost perfectly good.

2. SBP has tried and tried again, and again, to lead the liberals politically, following Masani’s advice of 1994. Those who try and never give up, get my vote. I cannot have anything to do with those who talk but do nothing.

Therefore on a practical level, I have now decided to “live” with the decisions of 1971 and 2004, as being the best decisions these two liberal parties took, under the circumstances, and within the decision-making structure of the parties. I unambiguously choose SBP as the least evil of all parties in India, with the potential of becoming the party of my ideals.

I don’t like either what Rajaji or Joshi did, but I think they knew best, and did it for good reasons. Let us move on into the future, building a perfect SBP.

For the next six years, with Sh. Joshi in the Rajya Sabha, I will spend my energies in strengthening SBP and making it the party that I want to see in India. It is important that I do not squander any more of my extremely limited time and energy on debating the merits of the 2004 election campaign. Despite all the confusion created on the way, Sh. Joshi has demonstrated that he is the true follower of Minoo Masani. He is a doer. He needs our undiluted strength.