Monday, September 23, 2013
What if Hastinapura were a democracy? All the turmoil about giving half the kingdom to the Pandavas could have been avoided and the matter settled through free and fair elections. The minor irritations of democracy would have persisted -- like Duryodhana putting in a fib or two in his affidavit to the Election Commission. But he couldn't have gone too far. Any attempt to hide his net assets or pending criminal cases would have been exposed by the Crimes Wow news channel with its insider hold on what the Nation wants to know.
The real attraction of the election option was that the opposing parties were in any case used to the ways of vote-bank politics and therefore could have avoided the path of war. Look at Duryodhana's extraordinary skill at building a national alliance. Just when Karna
was humiliated over low birth status, the Kaurava chief announced royal status for him. Karna's loyalty was sealed. As for Dharmaputra, the slightest excuse was enough for him to shower gift on the most influential vote bank of the time; he presented 10,000 cows to Brahmins to celebrate the birth of Arjuna's son Abhimanyu.
No wonder our leaders continue to be generous with freebees when elections approach. The Supreme Court may decry freebees as much as it wants, but bills like food security will get passed quickly. Since free rice and free laptops have become too common, wait for our netas to come up with brand new ideas: Free university degrees, free medical treatment abroad in IAS style.
With the BJP putting a crown on Narendra Modi, a whole new electioneering culture is developing around him. Articulate Muslims are appearing on television to describe how Muslims in Gujarat have benefited from Modi's rule. One even quoted statistics to show that Gujarat has more Muslims in government and police services than Bihar has. At Modi's Jaipur rally, the organisers distributed 5000 skull caps and burquas so that Muslims would attend looking like Muslims. A drive is under way in Gujarat to recruit a few tens of thousands of "minority citizens" into the BJP. At this rate, Modi may emerge as modern India's most popular hero of Muslims.
He will face no challenge from UP's Samajwadi Party which actually claims that position. UP is today the country's most lawless state (which is saying a great deal because during the previous Mayawati reign UP was not exactly law-abiding). Photographic evidence emerged to show that the Government was an active player in the riot that tore Muzaffarnagar apart. Police forces were held back, hate speeches were allowed. Eventually some provocateurs from the BJP and other parties were chargesheeted, but not a man from the Samajwadi Party was touched. Father, Son and their Holy Ghosts -- be they Raja Bhayya or Azam Khan -- have rendered themselves guilty even by UP standards.
Compared to other parties the Congress has an advantage: Nothing is expected from its leaders. Its President does not have to say anything and she knows it. Its Prime Minister in residence does not have to do or say anything and he knows it. Its Prime Minister in waiting does not have to say anything though he is not quite sure of it. When something is indeed heard in authentic Gandhi accents, it is usually the verbal equivalent of one-size-fits-all products. Rahul Gandhi said in Jaipur that the youth should be helped so that they can have big dreams. The cause of poverty, he said in a moment of pure inspiration, was not unemployment but frequent diseases. What a pity that the Congress lost in every state where Rahulji was the lead campaigner.
On second thoughts, may be Kurukshetra was better than free and fair elections. At least war was fought as per rules. Nothing exemplified this more touchingly than Dharmaputra respectfully approaching Bhishma, and then Drona, to ask: Tell me, how can I kill you? The great sages understood. They revealed their secrets and the killings took place with the blessings of the killed. This is human achievement at its noblest. Impossible in today's India.