Sunday, February 22, 2009

Bush is not Clinton; Singh is not Sen


George Bush for Bharat Ratna! The Congress Party's official spokesman floated this balloon publicly in Delhi, so it may well come true. It may be the Congress's idea of honouring Bush. But it will also dishonour the people of India in the eyes of the world. What's more, it will dishonour the people of the United States who have persistently declared their strong disapproval of the man. How cut off from public opinion can the Congress be.

Fortunately, G.B. himself is saying nothing, doing nothing these days. That's not the American style. Bill Clinton is still in the centre of things. Jimmy Carter even got a Nobel Prize for his global activities.

What ex-Presidents usually do is write their memoirs. Clinton wrote a rather indifferent one, but got 10 to 12 million dollars for his effort. Then he hit the highly paying speech circuit. For one of those "leadership summits" in Delhi he was paid $150,000 by an Indian publishing group. Ronald Reagan made $2 million from a single speaking tour of Japan.

In America there are professional agents who arrange these book and speech deals. They have assessed that there is no demand for Bush in these fields. Remember, on retirement his most memorable statement was that when he looked into the mirror the next morning, he was going to like what he saw. Who wants to hear or read such self-justifying drivel? (Except Congress patriots in Delhi.)

Not that Bush is going to be hard up. He is a wealthy man anyway. George Washington was wealthy enough to decline his annual salary of $25,000 (600,000 in today's terms). John Kennedy donated all his remuneration to charities.

But being able to earn well after retirement is nowadays a matter of prestige. Bush can still make a few millions through what is called private equity consultancy. This is a system by which crony capitalists pay politicians sumptuously for opening doors and providing connections. Henry Kissinger is still making good money through this route.

Indian politicians are denied any of these recognised means of making money. That may be why kickbacks have become their preferred route. That may also be why none of them retires. The only Prime Minister after Nehru who tried to become an author was P.V.Narasimha Rao. But he made no great impact with his "Insider" tales. The likes of Morarji Desai wrote empty memoirs which people did not even become aware of.

This may be linked to the generally uneducated status of our politicians. Even in the Nehru family, Jawaharlal was an exception. From Motilal to Indira to Rajiv to Sanjay, nobody finished a university course and nobody was intellectually inclined. Narasimha Rao was a scholar. But the politician in him crippled the intellectual in him.

Manmohan Singh, highly educated and highly intellectual, has the capacity to write a few books that would be valuable historically. But he won't. The politician in him has grown so much that he wouldn't dream of rocking any boat, let alone Soniaji's. Our only hopes lie with the Amartya Sens who are free of political dependence and therefore give us some food for our souls.