Political parties in a democratic system are seldom on the same page. They have their own agenda and their own way of thinking. And, above all, they are competing for the same elusive goal, a majority in Parliament. They are bound to jostle one another for that spot. But should they be hurting the system by doing so is the question. Should the race to beat the opponents be with no holds barred? I trust that the question has now become more relevant than before because the people have little faith in what the political parties say or do. They have lost respect and their leaders evoke disappointment and cynicism. In fact, the word, politician, has become a term of contempt.

It is generally conceded that there is no alternative to Parliament but, at the same time, it is argued that nothing gets done there. It is only a talking shop. On the other hand, parties have no policy or programme to pursue. Their only ambition is to grab power or be part of the government. It is a strange paradox the more the parties try to come nearer to the people, they go farther because of people’s disenchantment with them.

The frustrated LK Advani is leading a rath yatra, unfortunately from the birthplace of Gandhian Jayaprakash Narain who was known for his secular credentials. Advani’s purpose this time is to bring back the money the Indians have stashed away abroad. But he is covering the same ground which Anna Hazare has done by asking the government to pass in this winter session of Parliament a Lokpal (ombudsman) bill to eliminate corruption and seize the black money kept abroad. Advani’s yatra is a futile exercise. I suspect it is only a façade for his politics of communalism. The nation has had a bitter experience when in the wake of his yatra in 1990, hundreds of Muslims were killed. This yatra too has the making of polarization and it may strengthen fanaticism among Muslims.

In fact, after the Sachar Commission report, there is a churning in the community. The question before Muslims is: what should they do? They want to have an effective say in politics of secular India. Advani’s yatra may drive them to refurbish their identity. Must Advani or, for that matter, the BJP muddy the water at a time when a relatively calm period of accommodation and tolerance has come to prevail?

What Advani may be doing is part of BJP’s internal politics to be at the top in the party. But the nation is not bothered about his ambition to occupy the centre stage or the projection by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to be the prime ministerial candidate. People are worried over the harm the two may do to the polity. Muslims are particularly concerned because both of them have a reputation of being a divisive factor in the country.

Party president Nitin Gadkari has, for reasons best known to the BJP, has introduced in the yatra drama the demand for building a temple at the site where the Babri masjid stood once. On the other hand the captains of industry have got involved in Modi’s politics. They have hailed him as the country’s best CEO. I think these industrialists need to be examined to find out whether they too had a role when hundreds of Muslims were killed in the Gujarat riots in 2002. As for the ruling Congress, it has abruptly dropped both in popularity and credibility. It looks as if it is not capable of doing anything worthwhile.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who has been doing the backseat driving all these years, is out of gear. Health may be one factor. But my hunch is that her biggest worry is her son, Rahul Gandhi, whom she wanted to anoint, has failed to create few ripples in the country. He does not look like a person who can succeed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. After investing so much on Rahul Gandhi, the Congress does not have anyone except him to project. Yet, the party is comparatively better when it comes to assessing secular credentials. The middle class may argue that it is a lesser evil but this very plea is an advantage for the Congress at the state or parliament elections.  An array of schemes for alleviation of poverty and for improving the rural scene would also garner some votes for the party. Realising this, the Congress may introduce some more welfare schemes. Also, it may introduce some measures to curb corruption.

The party should have put the CBI under the supervision of the Supreme Court till the institution of Lokpal was in place. But then too many at the top are involved in one scam or the other. Some day the acts of omission and commission of Kamal Nath may become public because he has left behind a trail of corruption in the ministries he has headed. He has reportedly acquired property abroad that is worth billions. The glimmer of hope is still Anna Hazare. But his team has already begun to play at the political crease. His movement represents the resentment of people not only against corruption but also against mis-governance. Nothing else should come in the way of its real goal. It looks as if some members of his team are too anxious to be in the corridors of power. One of them has placed Hazare above Parliament. This statement, however general, does not fit into the democratic system that we pursue. The people are supreme, not one person however popular he is.

JP who led the movement to oust the Congress in 1977 was solicitous towards Parliament. We have to ensure that only clean people go there, but the importance of the institution should never be minimized. It is ridiculous for the RSS to claim its hand in the thousands of people who demonstrated their support to Hazare. And it is equally ridiculous for the Congress to make him a front man of the RSS. The Congress called even JP a CIA man. By making allegations, the party does not wash off corruption which is strewn all over in the government and in the Congress. When Hazare has snubbed the RSS, the matter should have been left at that.

Still the basic question has to be answered: how to retrieve the system. True, it is seething with corruption but which other models do we have in view? Collective thinking is necessary. And that brings in the political parties. Can their agendas be deferred till a consensus is reached on the alternative? This is not possible until morality returns to politics.