Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Indian politician in the spotlight

The mood in Bombay is rather vociferously anti-politician. Some have suggested they give up their "Z" class security and bestow it on the common man (or woman, one hopes). One citizen interviewed outside the Taj suggested that any politician coming near the site would be killed.

Strong stuff and rather rhetorical. What would a more factual perception be?

The Maharashtra state government has come across looking rather pathetic. Vilasrao Deshmukh was totally unimpressive on TV and R.R. Patil, who's spent his time saving the city from dance bars, had nothing useful to say (later he was heard saying something to the effect that this was a "minor incident", the exact words quoted were "bade shahron mein aise ek-aadh haadse hote hain", about the stupidest observation one could make in his position). These two did not convey any proper sense of urgency and they offer a poor contrast to the energetic city that this is fabled to be.

The Prime Minister Mr Manmohan Singh looked like a deer caught in the headlights. His frozen expression and way of speaking through clenched teeth did not particularly reassure. However, he did use the strongest words that he's ever used and briefly scored a victory when Pakistan agreed to send the head of ISI over. Which was undone when Pakistan denied they had agreed to such a thing.

The failure of Indian intelligence agencies is the single biggest issue here and both the state and central governments seem very much at fault for lethargy and incompetence, not necessarily personal but certainly systemic.

So do I now agree with Mr L.K. Advani, whom I criticised in my blog yesterday? Not in the least. He has contrived to use the terrorist attack in Mumbai to try and further the cause of his BJP party and of Hindu bigotry in general. That is the lowest a politician can stoop, and this kind of behaviour from someone projected to be a Prime Ministerial candidate leaves me speechless. One can only hope these tactics won't work.

Unrepentant about what he said some days ago, today he has tried again: "The energies of intelligence agencies were diverted to nail the so-called Hindu terror which enabled the Mumbai attackers to go undetected", a transparent and self-serving lie. He and his younger (therefore more dangerous) counterpart Narendra Modi were hounding ATS chief Hemant Karkare for pursuing the Hindu terrorists (not "so-called" but real), but have discovered after his death that he is a hero. Reportedly Modi offered Karkare's wife Rs 1 crore (merely to score political points! In such a situation the only right thing would be for the Government of India to give her the money, so if Modi had cash to spare, he should have routed his money through them). She is said to have refused his money, and if this story is true then it's very much to her credit.

Sometimes I think the BJP exists only to make the Congress look good.

And what of Raj Thackeray who has pinned his career on divisive politics of the worst kind? Text messages circulating for the last three days have, rightly, labelled him a coward. He was quite active "saving Bombay from poor Bihari taxi drivers", say the messages, but where is he now when North and South Indians of the NSG are rescuing his city from terrorists? His brand of politics now looks pathetic and if the terror attacks have the effect of removing his party from our lives, that would be welcome. Let's not forget that his movement is capable of causing as many innocent deaths in the future as we have seen this week.

People are wondering if the recent attacks will be a turning point in Indian politics. I'm doubtful, but from the lineup I've described above it's easy to see that no major player currently on the scene deserves our support, except possibly the well-meaning Manmohan Singh who - just for being well-meaning - towers far above the rest.


Anant said...

Good post.

It seems that there is already a fallout with the resignation of Mr. Shivaraj Patil.

The CM and Dy. CM of Maharashtra are trying to wriggle out. Let us see what happens.

I liked what you say about the commandos coming from all over India to help release the hostages.

I have a little post on the subject myself:

Mind Without Fear said...

what has also struck me is the almost total meaninglessness of the term "public servant" as applied to politicians, particularly the ruling politicians.

Just one look at R R Patil and his swaggering walk and talk to the media, and others like him convinces you that they are not what the term public servant was supposed to mean. They are their own personal servants and they do that well.

Could something be done using technology to bring our politicians face to face with this aspect in a manner that would embarrass and shame them as much as it is possible to do that to shameless people? Would a Public Servant Index ( PSI ) created out of voluntary web poll work if it lists all our CMs, and MPs along with how they have fared as a public servant? I recall that years ago the courageous N. Vittal, in his capacity as the Chief Vigilance Officer, had put up the names of politicians with the most disproportionate assets and that had worked for sometime - worked in the sense that suddenly some of the politicians had to face what they could not hide from the public - then of course they learned how to shrug that off.

Let us also point out that there have been and there are great public servants; unfortunately, the ministers and the MPs and MLAs seem to have forgotten how to be that.

One of the reasons Manmohan Singh still maintains his equity with a lot of different types of people, is regardless of whether you think of him as incompetent, indecisive, weak or not, he does project the image that he is there as a public servant and that he spends more time thinking of how to serve the public than how to serve himself.

At least for that I thank him - it would be a real pity if the Prime Minister looked and behaved like the deputy CM of Maharashtra.

Sunil Mukhi said...

MWF, I couldn't agree with you more. When R.R. Patil said on TV yesterday that resigning was "out of the question", he seemed to have forgotten that he's an elected official.

Of course as I've implied before, he obviously doesn't want to step down because then his dear city would be taken over by dance bars and there would be no one to save us from that clear and present danger.

More seriously, in present-day Indian culture the "servant-master paradigm" is alive and well and will need more than a few disasters like the recent one to shake it up. The populace simply cannot conceptualise the leader as "servant" (in the contemporary sense of "he who serves" and not the feudal sense of "slave"). In thsi situation which politician would be fool enough to insist he really is a servant?

How outdated our thinking seems, for an aspiring great power!