The political scene has become frenetic, what with assorted politicians, and even political parties, galvanizing themselves into the election mode. While politicians are seriously exploring a range of possibilities of realignments among various political groupings, political pundits are trying to make sense of various straws in the wind. Will the DMK and AIADMK swap positions vis-à-vis the UPA? Is Nitish Kumar inching towards an understanding with the Congress, with Naveen Patnaik too having second thoughts about BJD’s alliance with the BJP? Perhaps, Mamata Bannerjee is having a rethink on TMC’s equation with UPA? And, is the Third Front going to be resurrected once again? Media pundits are analyzing the utterances of Karunanidhi, Mayawati, Mulayam Singh and other regional satraps with the assiduousness of a research scholar. Elections may not be far away, but the manner in which Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi are trying to reach out to not just their respective constituencies but also the opinion makers, shows that coming general elections are being looked upon as mother of all elections.
Those eager to know what sort of vision for India has been originated or improvised by the two main gladiators – Modi and Gandhi – are bound to feel disappointed. You get to hear more of beehive versus Mother India waffle than any substantive roadmap to improving the aam aadmi’s quality of life. Rahul has not said anything new by mentioning the soft power as India’s strength. It was always there, in terms of cinema and cine stars as well as other cultural icons like Pt. Ravi Shankar, Ustad Bismillah Khan et al, our classical literature and other emblematic cultural inheritances like the Kamasutra and the Ajanta and Ellora etc. But, the point is, how have these sources of soft power been harnessed to India’s advantage? If we have failed in this, does Rahul Gandhi has any original plan to rectify this situation? So far, we have not heard anything thought provoking from him on this issue.
Narendra Modi is trying to reinvent himself as a saffron clad messiah of India’s economic development. True, under his watch, Gujarat’s per capita income and domestic product have made tremendous progress. But, has the life of average Gujarati improved? There are governance related issues vis-à-vis not just the minorities’ security but also dispensation of justice in general. There is a feeling among significant sections of Gujaratis that they are being deliberately and systematically excluded from their rightful share in the state’s prosperity. No matter what examples Modi may cite in support of the women’s condition in Gujarat, the likes of his Jasuben are as much an exception as Rahul Gandhi’s Kalavati is a norm even in Gujarat. He has not come up with any suggestion as to how he intends to improve the lot of those floundering at society’s margins if he becomes India’s prime minister. However, one must admit that at least the Modi vs. Gandhi debate makes sense, despite its inadequacies. In a milieu where political discourse has been reduced to exchange of high decibel invective and innuendo, the debate has been a redeeming feature of sorts.
If a vision is not backed with action, it remains a mere daydream; contrarily, if action is not tempered with a sound vision, it can create a nightmare. Today, we need someone, who would not hesitate from taking decisive steps in order to put Indians on the road to economic growth and social wellbeing. But, as Albert Camus observed, “Politics and the fate of mankind are shaped by men without ideals and without greatness. Men who have greatness within them don’t go in for politics.” This holds true for the contemporary political scenario. However, the Indian Republic was fortunate enough to have great persons of vision at the helm during its nascent stages. They instilled the Gandhian virtues of mutual respect and tolerance among different segments of the society; set up a liberal and democratic constitution and made sure that various democratic institutions would be strong enough to withstand the tests of time – tests that came in waves over the decades before, during and after the dreaded Emergency. There were principled personages who thought it immoral to use politics as means to self-aggrandizement, who lived Spartan lives and died penniless and unsung. But, unfortunately, such examples have been dwindling over the years. Our political culture has become conducive to the sprouting of organized hypocrisy among the ruling as well as opposition parties – both at the centre and the states. Consequently, the nation has developed a mindset that refuses to see beyond the GDP numbers and stock-exchange swings; people are unable to understand the consequences of the fast developing social and economic fault lines. They are not even aware of the advantages of allowing space to even the most miniscule of socio-religious minorities and the economically deprived, because no leader thinks it worth his while to dwell and act upon such issues.
What sorts of leaders are becoming increasingly visible, even assertive, on the country’s political firmament? The Thackeray cousins in Maharashtra are competing with each other in spewing venom upon “outsiders” – the ones who helped Mumbai become the financial capital of India and a name to reckon with in the international corporate and entertainment circles. The likes of Ajit Pawar think nothing of stooping to vulgarity while ridiculing the state’s denizens suffering from drought. The policemen in Punjab who get away lightly after resorting to inhuman violence against a defenseless woman, courtesy their benefactors in the state government – would the cops have dared if the governance in Punjab were in good health? The local police allegedly kill a student in Kolkata and the state’s Chief Minister dismisses it as a petty issue. Goons in UP think nothing of killing an IPS officer on duty. Sexploitation of women and children has reached epidemic levels. One can go on with this litany. But, what has been the governmental response? Either deafening silence or legislating a law without sharing with the nation as to how would it be effectively implemented. The present instruments of law & order and governance are ineffective thanks to the non-implementation of long pending reforms relating to various institutions, including the police.
Time has come for Indians to do away with rent seekers, brutal rabble-rousers and timid, mindless caterers to base instincts of mobs. Today India needs leaders with vision who have a deep understanding of the spreading malaise that is eating into the country’s socio-political structures and institutions. And, the guts to set things right.
Published in The Financial World dated 11 April 2013