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No vision, only ambition!

No vision, only ambition!
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The nation has heard the speech delivered by Rahul Gandhi at a meeting of the Confederation of Indian Industry in New Delhi on Thursday. Earlier it...

The nation has heard the speech delivered by Rahul Gandhi at a meeting of the Confederation of Indian Industry in New Delhi on Thursday. Earlier it had heard the speech of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi at a similar conclave. Both said nothing that the people did not know already; yet they said their respective pieces, though not necessarily to establish their credentials for the office of Prime Minister.

When such high-minded noises are made for the first few days, the voices sound hearteningly like that from Sinai which gave the Ten Commandments. Those who listen feel as if some rigid crust inside them, the parched crust of skepticism, frustration, and resigned common sense, has suddenly burst open.

But what are the psychological mechanisms which make some high-minded regard only that for power as a sort of Zoroastrian struggle between light and darkness? (By the way, both Modi and Rahul spoke of both light and darkness!)

However, some of the high-minded themselves look bad cases of Zoroastrianism; it is as though their own conscience, if they have one, or fear of exposure has caught them a sound blow on the thumb with a sledge-hammer.

Parenthetically, Lord Morley, the statesman who was for some time Secretary of State for India, had once compared transplantation of parliamentary institutions to India to use of Canadian fur coat in tropical conditions!

In other words, what the Bourbons of politics in India on both sides of the parliamentary divide need to realize is that there is a lot more to democracy than ballot boxes and other technological grace-notes. But these are perhaps the nerve-ends that should not be touched, especially by parties which are landed with pallid or no leadership.

Agreed, that democratic performance, unlike State-sponsored terror, is stubbornly resistant to meaningful and precise measurement. Even so, India does not need to look, as it does today, like Prospero's isle, full of voices; what politicians of all hues are yet to understand is that the roll is fast becoming tedious and may well end up in a lisp.

The charm of these voices, if any, resides in their high degree of unreliability. Each is engaged vociferously in stating a case, mostly his own, lying just as largely and loftily as suits that case, which may have proved of absorbing interest to the exponent himself/herself but is unrelated to national exigencies.

The question that is sure to be asked is why, with the next parliamentary election scheduled for 2014, almost every political party is talking of the next Prime Minister?

Some sections in the Opposition seem to think that the Congress is set to decide on a cut-and-run election, a contest cynically mounted in the hope of averting electoral Nemesis that might otherwise overtake it; that having failed pitiably in office for two terms it will plump for a sort of stampede for electoral safety. What is the state of affairs in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)? Its defiant, mocking courage clearly masks despair, and not just because of the fate it has just suffered in Karnataka where its first government already looks set to be its last government too.

Though no longer capable of appreciating the value of good parliamentary debate, the party seems to have realized that stonewalling of parliamentary proceedings is also profitless, and that those who resort to it cannot hope even their coalition allies to back them. Also, does the average Indian enjoy this political spectacle? Is Parliament in a viability niche of conflict situation? So, at long last Rahul has chosen to articulate what he thought was his vision for future India.

Little wonder that articulation has evoked conflicting reactions. After all, the young man reminds many Indians and foreigners of Venice: For two centuries travelers to Venice have seen its different aspects: Byron saw its tawdry romance; Ruskin its medievalism; Henry James its melancholy; Corvo its squalor; and Thomas Mann its suicidal misery. So also in the case of Rahul, politicians see what they want to see of him.

Therefore, what not only contenders but also pretenders to the Throne need to realize before they try their luck is that what does matter right now, and is going to matter for some time to come, is erosion of public confidence in the good faith and integrity of most of our professional politicians and the intrinsic honesty of our system.

This may remind many of the last days of the Fourth Republic, with French politicians wheeling and dealing right up to the very last moment when the roof came crashing down and buried them all.

Therefore, one thing looks certain: The next time around the electorate is going to weigh the countless scams that have been occurring in different States and among various parties, and then decide which party is least venal and therefore deserving of its vote.

When that happens, the nation will have to forget all about the Prime Minister and aspirants for that office and start worrying about where our parliamentary democracy is drifting.

Finally, those who talk of themselves and the leadership qualities that they believe they are endowed with may lose their security deposit because Indians want those who can not only lead them but also carry them with them.

But what are the psychological mechanisms which make some high-minded regard only that for power as a sort of Zoroastrian struggle between light and darkness? (By the way, both Modi and Rahul spoke of both light and darkness!)

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