Don’t think I am vain or indulging in inverted snobbery. Despite my sympathy for the underclasses, I quite relish the idea of staying in Raj Niwas, with its stately, spacious rooms, its charming lawns, where the breeze is balmy and peacocks dance. Yet I wouldn’t want to become Najeeb Jung because I am convinced, after much reflection, that the kind of decision he has to take would torment me all my life.
It’s never easy for any governor to decide which party to invite to form a government when there is a badly hung assembly. It is even tougher in Delhi’s case because of the Bharatiya Janata Party's flip-flop – it said it wasn’t interested in forming the government in December, but then, after sweeping the general election, it had a rethink. Perhaps the BJP believed its spectacular showing would make opposition MLAs nervous and prompt them to support the party to evade a fresh poll, which Modi could help it sweep. Its leaders, therefore, wanted a grace period to make up for the shortfall in numbers, believing legislative strength, like saplings, inevitably grows with time. So the assembly was kept in suspended animation.
But to grow, saplings need water and nutrients. A minority party in the assembly can reach the majority mark, it is widely believed, by paying MLAs to switch their loyalty or offering them plum posts in the administration. For all this, you need time to bargain with MLAs. And because the party that is keen to form the Delhi government is also ruling at the Centre, and because the Central government has the powers to fire governors, you know Jung was damned either way – whether he dissolved the assembly and called for fresh polls or invited the BJP to have a shot at government formation.
If I were to face the choices Jung had before him, nobody would have believed that my intentions were noble. Really, I didn’t want to burden Delhi with another election. It costs money, and you can never be sure the next election wouldn't throw up yet another hung assembly. So I thought might as well wait and watch, and hope MLAs make an ideological leap and land in the BJP’s lap. After all, MLAs can have a genuine ideological makeover, I thought.
These Delhiites are very argumentative. They have been puncturing my arguments. They argue if saving money is the criterion, why hold elections every five years? They say that starting from the 1989 general election until 2014, the Lok Sabha has been always hung and three governments couldn’t complete their five-year term. I don’t want to be Najeeb Jung because I don’t know how to counter their arguments.
All of us, to a varying degree, are embedded in our religious communities. Just in case you didn’t realise from my name, I am Muslim, as Jung is too. You know these Muslims – they obsess about the BJP and are absolutely paranoid about the Hindutva ideology. Had I been in Jung’s shoes, they would have jumped to the conclusion that I prefer a BJP government, forgetting that my intention has always been to save Delhi from another election.
Think of the stress I’d have been under. Though cousins and uncles and aunts won’t say it to my face, because they would need me to pull strings in the administration, I know they’d loathe me in their hearts. But it’s not them I’d bother about, for I believe in what the American poet Robert Frost said, “Home is where when you go they have to take you in.” Family is home, I am sure they’d forgive me ultimately.
I’d be more bothered about my friends who have non-Muslim names. A bewildering mix they are – atheists, agnostics, religious, centrists, leftists, radical revolutionaries, moralists et al. For all of them, I know the BJP is anathema. And if I were to emulate Jung in keeping the assembly in suspended animation, they’d not speak to me, or smirk and remark acerbically, “You betrayed all of us. For what?”
Too wily to spell out what they mean by “what”, I know them well enough to figure out that they’d think I have kept the assembly in suspended animation to continue to stay in Delhi’s Raj Niwas. It is based on their unfounded assumption that the Modi government would otherwise fire me. Ignoble fools they may be, but friends they are too. Their judgement would weigh heavily on me, in case I was the Lt Governor of Delhi.
These friends never hesitate to hit below the belt to win an argument. Sure enough, in their cultivated voices, they’d point to the strange coincidences of history and wonder aloud: Why do Muslims play a cameo every time democracy is murdered? I’d know their allusion is to Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, a Muslim president who signed on the dotted line to enable Indira Gandhi to impose the Emergency. I’d know they think keeping the assembly in suspended animation is akin to slow strangulation of democracy. Why would I wish to be remembered as the man who subverted the popular mandate, particularly, as I have told you, my intention is to save the public money?
Alright, the Supreme Court would have bailed me out, as it had Jung. It would have appreciated my patient search for a government. It would have told me, form a minority government. There would have been tweets, as there have been for Jung, praising me and lambasting those Aam Aadmi Party leaders, who are cantankerous, rebels who never pause, always patronising a cause, having suddenly become the protectors of democracy.
But their sarcasm, as Jung, I’d sure find hard to endure. This Arvind Kejriwal would call me a BJP agent, and fire salvos every day. Why can’t he return to his RTI activism, why can‘t Prashant Bhushan drag out more skeletons from the UPA cupboard, why can’t Yogendra Yadav concentrate on writing erudite political analyses? For all their crowing about initiating a new style of politics, they violated the privacy of BJP leaders whom they caught on spy camera offering a lucrative deal to AAP MLAs to win their support.
Some things to confess
You know, men and women with a mission are inclined to suspect the entire world. In case I, like Jung, was in Raj Niwas, they’d think I am playing the BJP’s game. Every second week they would descend on Raj Niwas wanting the assembly to be dissolved. I must marvel at Jung’s resilience: he hasn’t buckled under their pressure. I wouldn’t have been able to endure their withering, accusing gaze. My conscience would have pricked so severely, and constantly, that even tranquilisers wouldn’t have silenced it.
Don’t think I am not guilty of transgressions. As a schoolboy, I stole an examination paper and was suspended. I have bribed a few times to get what was due to me. But I don’t think I have snatched something from someone to give it to another to whom it didn’t belong in the first place.
So if I were in Raj Niwas, I’d assume many would believe I am crafting a situation to enable the BJP to win a majority in the Assembly, a majority denied to it by the people of Delhi. For all my past transgressions, I know this accusation would torment me no end, deter me from even looking into the mirror. Nor would it help if the minority government were to survive on the floor of the House. Just everybody would presume money had changed hands. Oh, yes, there are limits to endurance.
I now understand the Chinese saying, “Think carefully before you make a wish.” That’s why I have stopped dreaming about becoming Najeeb Jung. His is a tough act to emulate.
Ajaz Ashraf is a journalist who lives in Delhi. He is the author of The Hour Before Dawn, HarperCollins India, which will be released in December.
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