The Fifth Column

07th December 1997

You must know this, Gujral

My Dear Gujral,

I was so sad to hear that you lost your job last week. Now, don't give me the excuse that yours was a coalition government and therefore, when the Congress Party withdrew its support, there was nothing you could do.

Now, Gujral, that would be the excuse of a bad politician. Coalitions do last for a long time, only if they are handled the proper way. How, you would ask. Let me tell you a few secrets.

You must start by giving the best of promises to the people. Bread at half the price, more media freedom, privatisation with a human face, whatever. Now, don't ask me how you would keep those promises, because you never intend to. All you do is break promise after promise and solemnly tell the people why you were forced to do so. If you can't do that yourself, the next best thing to do is find a law professor who likes to hear himself talk. He will do the needful.

And, just to ensure that your opposition is divided, you appoint a few Commissions that recommend harsh penalties. There will always be a section of the Opposition that actually approves of it, because it enables them to become new leaders. Believe me, over here, it has succeeded not once, but twice.

Then, how do you keep your coalition partners happy?

Well, Gujral, that's easy. You leak a few rumours about a Cabinet reshuffle every now and then, but get down to doing that only after about three years. If there's someone you really don't like, you can throw her (or him!) out and other less likeable people can be given subjects like Fisheries where they can do little harm. I'm sure you must be having your share of politicians who behave like thugs in their villages - these are the ones you must reward with ministerial portfolios at the reshuffle, because they are the ones who will ultimately get you the votes by hook or by crook at the next election.

Then, there is another thing that you must do, Gujral and that is to create some little event of interest so the people will forget about politics. The best remedy is to stage some cricket matches and it helps if your team can win the World Cup or at least, a few matches. But as things are now, I know that will be asking a little too much from Sachin and his boys.

Of course, it doesn't matter if, occasionally, one of your ministers makes a fool of himself by getting his son involved in a murder case or calling a woman, a man. The important thing is, then people start criticising them and not you, and a few weeks later forget all about it and turn to the next scandal, because, in this part of the world, Cabinet ministers never resign.

Then, you must also find the right person for the right job. For example, your President is the chap who finally decides about dissolving parliament. I know you can't appoint your mother for that job, so maybe you should have appointed your wife! That way, it's so much easier......

But now, Gujral, I know all this advice is too late to be of use to you. Anyway, best of luck at the next elections.

Yours truly,

Punchi Putha.

PS - I heard Sonia G. wants to lead the Congress at the polls. Now, if she does that, my advice to you is to pack your bags and run. You don't stand half a chance against her. Believe me, she may be the most inexperienced person in politics; but the people just love a woman whose husband was an assassinated politician. Again, we have tried this not once, but twice! And, when they come to power on the credentials of their husbands, they do a pretty good job of it too!

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