Meghalaya governor V Shanmuganathan, 68, a RSS pracharak has resigned after 80 staff members of the Raj Bhavan wrote a letter to President Pranab Mukherjee that he had converted the place into a young ladies club. Trouble began for the bachelor governor when he had invited a young aspirant for the PRO’s job on the Raj Bhavan for ‘one-to-one’ interview, and touched her inappropriately. (He reportedly complimented her and compared her looks with that of Bollywood star Deepika Padukone).This happened in December and the RSS pracharak may have been smug in the belief that the incident had passed over without any bad forebodings for him when nothing happened in its immediate aftermath.
But the issue got exposed when the lady concerned shared the details with a journalist friend who was also one of the aspirants for the PRO’s job. In the BJP, appointments to the posts that are made at the government’s discretion are an exclusively organisational affair with the RSS having an upper hand. Usually, the organisational secretary Ram Lal and the party president Amit Shah call the shots with inputs from concerned persons. This is often a time consuming process that tests the patience of the aspirants but the saffron bosses insist on it.
Shanmuganathan had all the credentials for the job from the RSS point of view. He has an M.Phil in political science and is a gold medallist from the then Madras University. He used to contribute articles to the RSS mouth piece Organiser. He has spent years in the national capital and those who knew him at that time describe him as a docile, affable soft spoken person. For years, he has worked as the BJP parliamentary party secretary, and was by the side of the official spokesperson at the party’s press conferences in the parliament. However, in true BJP style, he maintained a low profile living in one room next to the party headquarters.
So how does such a person trip from the high moral pedestal of the RSS training within months of getting into the Raj Bhavan ? According to a perceptive observer of the happenings in Raj Bhavan it is possible that for Shanmuganathan,”the culture shock must have been such that he mistook the easy manner of women in Meghalaya who live independent lives and move around without hindrance as being an invitation to sexual exploitation”.
Once this happened, the rot set in. As the employees claimed in their memorandum to the president the governor “appointed two public relations officers, a cook and a nurse on night duty, all of whom are women”. They charged that the governor “selected only girls” to work for him and shifted the male official private secretary to his secretariat. He also took them on tours with him. From this it would appear that the rigorous RSS training in character building and inculcating moral values among the pracharaks is not enough to prepare the candidate for a stint in the Raj Bhavan. The trappings of power and opulence offer temptations that are difficult to resist. Or poor Shanmuganathan is just an exception. For their part, the bulk of the RSS pracharaks adhere to their strict moral code and discharge their duties diligently. The rot is only among those who cross-over to the BJP.
However, there is a larger issue of the crumbling values of the BJP as well. For years it has been railing against dynastic politics and targeting the Gandhis. It has been arguing that is leaders come from the cadres and family links have no place in their party. Ahead of the selection of the candidates for the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a personal appeal to all leaders that they should not seek tickets from their relatives and family members. But no one heeded this appeal.
The ticket distribution process which is a fairly transparent and democratic affair in the party normally, hit a wall with the union home minister Rajnath Singh insisting that his son Pankaj be nominated from Noida. Quite clearly, the Thakur would not be content with his son being a mere MLA should the BJP come to power. There is no point in blaming the union home minister, because once he succeeded there was a cascading effect and almost no leader who sought a ticket for his relative was refused. It was as if they were waiting for the process to begin at some point.
Besides, like the Congress, the party president Amit Shah was authorised to finalise the tickets without the process of wider consultation on the merits and demerits of the claimants. The resultant discontent has spilled on to the streets and led to protests against the national leadership. In effect, the BJP has shown that when it is in power, it can hardly uphold the principles that it champions when out of power. Such behaviour shows that its claims to occupying a higher moral ground vis-à-vis the Congress are a sham. In politics, the most important thing is the credibility of the party.
With such critical developments, it is quite logical for the BJP’s credibility to take a hit. This is not the case when party makes course correction on policy issues related to governance matters. As for instance the party’s complete U-turn on the Aadhar scheme. In opposition the BJP had claimed that it would scrap the scheme on coming to power but it fully embraced it on coming to power. There is a long list of such U-turns including on the GST bill, now touted as the single most important tax reform since independence. But this is seen as a different matter and does not compromise the party.
So long on moral issues, the BJP has always depended on whataboutery and pointed a finger at the Congress. Such an approach may work in the studios of the 24×7 news channels, but does little to mitigate the black spots on the saffron score sheet created by a Shanmuganathan.