CONSPIRACY is a natural morsel in the media diet, a vitamin that adds energy to a news meal generally more flat than nutritious.
It also works because the audience loves it. In theory people want news because it is vital for the health of democracy; in practice, they like information because it is fodder for gossip. It is much more necessary to rescue a dull afternoon than to save the nation.
There is no electricity therefore in a meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and patriarch L.K. Advani. No one believes that either will switch sides, or be quietly helpful to the other.
The verdict is similar on a prime minister-Prakash Karat meeting, if indeed there was any chance of the two getting together. Our prime minister exhausted everything he had to say to the communists during UPA1 (United Progressive Alliance).
The Bharatiya Janata Party and communist MPs are actually quite friendly when they meet off-screen in parliament’s lobbies, but there is no dialogue. Everyone, and everything, else is up for virile media speculation.
The number of times, therefore, that Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has been sent into the waiting embrace of Congress is legion. All he has to do is be polite and the drum roll picks up cadence in the background.
Less musically, for the discourse is more strident in Chennai, every consonant in the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam supremo Karunanidhi is analysed for proximity or distance towards his partner in Delhi.
This is good enough as a game, but should not be confused with realpolitik. There are always pressures in any alliance, for different parties would not be different if they did not differ on policy. This does not necessarily make them adversaries.
If Karunanidhi could swallow, however painfully, the incarceration of his daughter Kanimozhi in Tihar jail on a corruption charge, then he is hardly going to bring down the government over human rights violations in Sri Lanka. The DMK and Congress have much larger domestic interests to protect. There is nothing personal in politics.
The relationship between Nitish Kumar and the BJP will also be measured purely by electoral mathematics, not ideological purity or the lollipops offered by Delhi. The only time this equation was under serious threat was when Nitish Kumar thought that he might be able to win an election alone. Wisely he refused that temptation, and that moment has passed.
There can never be any guarantee against miscalculation, but Nitish Kumar is no longer in a position to risk a lone battle against his nemesis Lalu Prasad Yadav. The sap is rising in the enemy camp, as the growing multitudes at Lalu’s rallies indicate. Nor is the BJP likely to provoke its most consistent ally by projecting Narendra Modi beyond a point. Nitish needs Muslim votes and the BJP needs Nitish. This is arithmetic, not algebra.
The wonder is how the siren charm of speculation can drive out a legitimate story, or bury it in a secondary plot.
If there is any future instability in the DMK-Congress marriage it will be because of A. Raja, principal accused in the 2G scam and rock-star presence in the Radia tapes, not foreign policy.
Raja is suddenly eager to depose before the joint parliamentary commission on 2G. The Congress is anxious to stop him from doing so, which at the very least is amazing. The bridegroom wants to confess exclusive details about the huge, illegal dowry he received, and the chief political prosecutor is telling him to keep quiet.
Opposition MPs in the joint parliamentary commission want to hear Raja, but not Congress. Is Congress worried that Raja will expose the part played by its leaders in the 2G scam? The Central Bureau of Investigation, surely acting under instructions from political masters, has deftly eliminated the Radia tapes from attention: it did not have time to transcribe the thousands of tapes it seized.
Many questions. Why has Raja suddenly decided to sing? He knows surely that any warble will implicate him as well? Has he decided that he is done for, and that he will bring the house down in the process? Has he taken Karunanidhi’s permission? He is known to be close to his leader; would he have acted without consent? Is Karunanidhi setting in motion his strategy for the next election after having gone by the script to protect the government for four years?
Can this impasse be resolved? A friend suggested a neat solution. The Supreme Court should step in and ask Raja to depose before it, since Raja was being blocked by elements within the joint parliamentary committee. The court’s credibility has been strengthened by intervention whenever it has acted in the national interest.
Here is an obvious and public case of obstruction. Perhaps Raja can make it easier for the court by seeking to place his version in the court records. That should provoke a flutter or two. There is always the media as a last resort. Let the speculation begin! The afternoons are getting dull.
The writer is editor of The Sunday Guardian, published from Delhi, India on Sunday, published from London and editorial director, India Today and Headlines Today.