Since my return from Delhi, people have been asking me two questions: (I) Will Narasimha Rao be arrested? (2) How long will the Gowda government last?
While I was in Delhi, people there asked me two questions: (1) What are Sharad Pawar's chances of becoming prime minister? (2) How strong is the Shiv Sena?
Once and for all, I will try and answer all the four questions. First, the questions for the benefit of the people in Mumbai.
Mr. Narasimha Rao will not be arrested. Not this evening, not on October 21, not on November 6, never. It is not in the Indian ethos to arrest the immediate past prime minister and lock him up in Tihar jail along with a lot of common criminals. And there is nothing wrong with this ethos. It is in the same tradition as the American one when they did not impeach Predient Nixon but let him quietly resign and retire.
If ever Mr. Rao is arrested, it will be symbolical. He will be put under house arrest, not that he is going out much these days, so that would be all right. But chances are the whole thing will blow over, and a lot of people will be happy for it. The experience, otherwise, would be too traumatic.
Second question: Mr. Gowda may not last his full five-year term, but he will see through most of it. Because, the only way his government can be upset is through another round of lok sabha elections, and no party is ready for an election right now, certainly not the BJP.
So, Mr. Gowda and his patchwork government stays. It may not be good for the country. But which government has been goo for the country. Mr. Rao's government only to the extent that it gave Mr. Manmohan Singh a reasonably free hand. Beyond that, you have to look to Mr. Lal Bahadur Shastri's brief little innings.
Now, to the question asked in Delhi. Will Mr. Sharad Pawar become the prime minister? No, he has missed the bus. However, if he waits long enough, say another ten years, there is another bus coming.
And, the final question? The Shiv Sena is not as strong as it was when it came into government. Its popularity is at 50 per cent to what it was. Not that the other 50 per cent have turned against it - they have become indifferent to it. They have realised that the sena government, like the governments before it, is made of men of straw. However, there is nothing strange about this, no government in power for a couple of years retains the position it enjoyed in people's expectations when it came into power.
This, however, does not mean that the government will fall. This cannot happen because even the most apolitical of voters knows that the alternative to it is Mr. Chhagan Bhujbal as chief and imagine Mr. Bhujbal as chief minister.