Monday, May 26, 2014

Not all leaders see our civilisation's shift. Will Modi's good first impressions hold?

A remarkable study in contrast is unfolding before our eyes post election. Narendra Modi is rising to the occasion, step by calculated step, every inch a Prime Minister, and a cautious one at that, uttering the right words, making the right gestures, presenting the right image. What and how much he will deliver against heightened popular expectations cannot be gauged at this point. But the first impressions are in his favour. Especially his show of grace, suggestive of the Churchillian precept "in victory, magnanimity".

The parties that collapsed present an altogether different picture. The Congress is scoring self-goals, imagining that the masses can be fooled by a resignation at the top followed by its cancellation in the name of alleged public clamour. The Congress is unable to understand what hit it -- and unable to stomach what it does understand. So the sycophants run riot with their cry that the alternative to the Gandhis are the Gandhis; the farthest they can go from Rahul Gandhi is Priyanka Gandhi. This party of the past will have no future unless it faces democracy in democratic ways. That's true of all dynasty perpetrators, from the Abdullahs to the Badals, from the Yadavs to the Pawars, and even the Scindias who have one leg in the Congress boat and another in the BJP boat though both legs rest on the Maharajah-Maharani principle.

Other losers have been as adamant as the Congress in not accepting the fallibility of their egos. UP's Tweedledum and Tweedledee parties are an example. The ruling Samajwadi Party did not blame any of the top leaders for losing 75 of the 80 seats at stake. Instead it sacked 36 Ministers of state holding them responsible for the party's poorest ever show. The Ministers of State as conceptualised by the SP Government were a travesty anyway. Their main job was to arrange transfers and postings. The big blunders that led to the party's unpopularity were committed directly by the top leaders, but not one of them was touched.

The Mayawati coterie that runs Bahujan Samaj is also dodging responsibility after scoring a duck in the elections. At the best of times, the entrenched casteism of this party was an obstacle to progress, especially after progress was defined as megalomaniacal monuments to the supreme leader. This time the caste philosophy was turned on its head with the party nominating 21 Brahmins (on the advice of Mayawati's Brahmin confidant) and 19 Muslims (on the advice of her Muslim confidant). How farcical can Indian politics get. But the confidants are riding high. Mayawati punished zonal coordinators and party committees for her and her confidants' failure. Ambedkar, her professed idol, probably had people like her in mind when he said "democracy is only a top dressing on Indian soil which is essentially undemocratic".

It is astonishing that despite the high principles enunciated by constitutional scholars like Ambedkar and Alladi Krishnaswamy Aiyar and despite the noble examples initially set by elected leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel, India fell into the hands of opportunistic politicians who used the country to enrich themselves and their families. Adult franchise and first-past-the-post sounded wonderful at first. But nothing stopped crooks from hijacking the system. Crime and nonpunishment became so accepted that the Government formally led by Mr Clean did not lift a finger to stop the avalanche of corruption scandals that engulfed it. It is a tribute to the spirit of India that more people turned out to vote this time; they had a lot of anger to register and corrections to carry out.

The change they voted in could not have been more dramatic. From Sonia Gandhi to Narendra Modi is a civilisational shift. It has the potential to make up for the lost years and transform India from what is today -- "islands of California in a sea of sub-Saharan Africa". Whether that will in fact happen will depend on whether Modi stays true to his first impressions, or whether unseen forces will push ahead with undeclared agendas. In every sense we are at a turning point in history.