In classical tragedy -- Greek, Shakespearean or Indian -- the underlying theory is that the tragic hero cannot help himself. Antigone and Hamlet knew they were drifting into suffering but were unable to avert tragedy. Duryodhana alone understood and explained the trap in which he was caught. He knew what was dharma, he said, "but I have no inclination to follow it". The only inclination he had was to do whatever came to his mind at any given moment.
Even in their villainy the heroes of classical tragedy commanded our sympathy and admiration. The heroes of modern political tragedy have villainy without the redeeming features of character and catharsis. Unlike Macbeth and Othello, the likes of Omprakash Chautala and Janardhana Reddy knew that they were not victims but makers of destiny, and that they had the option not to abuse power. Yet, they displayed neither the understanding of Duryodhana nor the discretion of Ravana. They just went power-mad. Thousands of such abusers of power are still at large.
Party labels and professed ideologies make no difference to this cult of foul politics. Consider the two parties that claim the right to rule. Corruption charges led to the exit in disgrace of two BJP presidents and to the party's humiliation in Karnataka. Yet it strikes a moral pose as it campaigns against Congress corruption. The focus this week is on jail bharo. It is a pity that jail bharo means going in and then out of jail, whereas a lasting stay behind bars would have been more appropriate in many cases.
For its part, the Congress has never been as widely distrusted as today. Most of the scams have been unforgivable. It seems certain that its fate in the next election will be somewhat similar to its fate in the post-Emergency election of 1977. Yet, unaware of the popular mood, the party is busy attacking the BJP for corruption and celebrating its own ninth anniversary in power.
We celebrate success, not failure. For Manmohan Singh to complete two terms as Prime Minister is indeed a statistical consummation. But which Government in recent history had such a long period to achieve things for the country and failed to do so? Which Government notched up a list of scams, each more damnable than the other? The Congress celebrates what the people regret.
The procession of scams pointed to an unusual trait in the Sonia Gandhi-led Congress: Its refusal to recognise public sentiment and march on regardless. Even Indira Gandhi yearned for public approval in some form, some time. Sonia Gandhi has appeared uninterested in popular approval. Her style of brazening it out could be seen in the appointment of CBI chiefs and Central Vigilance commissioners, and again in the latest appointment of the Comptroller & Auditor General.
Vinod Rai had done to the CAG what Santosh Hegde had done to the Lok Ayukta and T.N. Seshan to the Election Commission -- set benchmarks that would always be held up as models. Congress mandarins put Shashi Kant Sharma in Vinod Rai's chair. This gentleman held key Defence Ministry positions for as long as ten years including a post-retirement extension. Those ten years saw the Defence budget skyrocketing from Rs 25,000 crore to Rs 2 lakh crore. Many big procurement deals hit the headlines for the wrong reasons despite Mr Clean, A.K. Antony, being at the helm. What credibility will the auditing of defence purchases have under the new CAG? It's that public-feelings-be-damned attitude again.
Bad days are ahead. The Congress will find it hard even to get a workable coalition going. Disgust with the Congress may drive some voters to the BJP, but there is no salvation there either. With several months to go for elections, we have to be wary of coalition predictions. But perhaps it is not too weird to hope that the present chaos will get worse. The problem with functioning anarchy is that it functions. If it stops functioning, chaos may become unbearable and out of it may emerge order. That was true with other countries.