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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 22, May 16, 2009

Protect the Centre

Monday 18 May 2009, by Raj Kishore

Hearty welcome to Prakash Karat. Even if it is a remote possibility that he will get what was once denied to Jyoti Basu, his name is music to my ears. I am no fan of the CPI-M brand of communism. Yet I would love Karat as the next Prime Minister. I sincerely hope that those who feverishly wish to protect the Centre will share this emotion.

The ongoing Lok Sabha election has opened up many bizarre possibilities. It is for the first time that the post of the Prime Minister has occupied the central place in election debate. The credit, or discredit, for this goes to L.K. Advani who has turned the parliamentary election into some sort of presidential election. The presidential form of government immensely suits the designs of the BJP as this mode has the potential to accommodate dictatorial designs. Maybe the wide publicity commanded by the recent American presidential election encouraged Advani to go for a photo-copy. However, emerging claims from the UPA constituents and the naked longing of Mayawati were also strong factors. When the polity is totally fractured, any politician whose support is essential for forming a government holds the power to demand her/his pound of flesh.

Of all such candidates, Mayawati is seen as the strongest contender. She never concealed her wish to occupy the top post. Uttar Pradesh is too small for her. The Third Front must be congratulated for keeping the issue of its Prime Minister at bay. It must have taken a lot to persuade the UP Chief Minister to agree to it. Of course, everybody knows why she is there. When the time for counting the chickens comes up, Mayawati is sure to declare: it is me only even if that means going from door to door.

Interestingly, there are members of our chattering classes who will support the case of Mayawati in the name of social justice. Nothing can be more absurd. It will be a great day for our country when a Dalit or an adivasi leader occupies the PM House on the strength of her/his abilities. That historic day seems to be far away. In 1977, we lost a great opportunity when Jagjivan Ram was ousted from the contest. Now, we are facing a situation when an over-ambitious Dalit woman may succeed. Her record until now says that it will be an utter disaster.

The peripheries of the Indian Republic have been collapsing at a fast rate. The Congress party never took the State leadership with seriousness. After the stalwarts of the freedom struggle passed away, the Congress leadership saw to it that no worthwhile leader should come up at the State level. In this process, even highly unsuitable persons were thrust upon the State capitals. Their only quality was that they were loyal to their apex leader to the core. This almost destroyed the ‘natural selection’ process of the emergence of new leaders. The result was the rise of strong leaders in the Opposition. The sour end of this tale is that these regional leaders became powers unto themselves. They had no mentors to train or discipline them in the culture of democratic politics. Some who claim to be political descendents of Dr Lohia or JP hardly show any signs of their schooling. If fruits tell of the tree, the spectrum of this breed creates an ugly image of these great leaders. Needless to say, Mayawati is the worst pass-out of the Kanshiram School of Dalit Empowerment.

The CPI-M was till recently thought to be the best among the regional formations. It worked much better in Kerala. The achievement is acknowledged internationally, thanks to Amartya Sen. In West Bengal, where the CPI -M’s grip over power is enormous and unduly long-lasting, it failed miserably. When it woke up, its teeth became visible to all. However, the CPI-M is one party which is part of our ‘grand’ tradition as against the ‘little’ traditions represented by Laloo Prasad and his tribe. If Karat or Yechury are able to negotiate their way up, we can expect that some decency would be maintained at the Centre as compared to other leaders aspiring to succeed Manmohan Singh.

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Manmohan Singh is a unique phenomenon. Perhaps he has no parallel in political history. He is not a politician in any sense of the term. Nor has he the will to be one. He is happy with his lot as a high-value compulsion for the Congress. The party wishes him to proxy for Rahul Gandhi until the latter is ready to take off. If the Congress has to depend on the Left block again for government formation, the plea may be made gently but firmly that he has served the nation well enough and may now be sent on ‘earned leave’. This way the Left can manage to forget its humiliation over the nuclear deal issue. If another formation is able to capture power at the Centre, the Left must assert its claim to lead the coalition as no other party would be able to keep the coalition intact. There is a chance that if the Left block comes to run the Central Government even as a part of a coalition, it may learn how to administer and grow as an instrument to improve the quality of politics and forge longer-lasting coalitions.

Regional ‘supermen’ have done much harm to democratic governance. They are not even political literates. This is not to suggest that Anglicised leadership is a must for democratic governance. Desi excellence can do the job just as well—perhaps much, much better. But we are not so fortunate. The worst of the desi culture has fallen our lot. The Centre has, however, remained immune from this phenomenon to a certain extent. But the danger is looming large. If persons like Mayawati come to occupy the highest seat of power, the collapse will be complete. The Centre will be regionalised—in a bad sense. The new grassroots icons care a fig for laws, rules and norms. They have scant regard even for their own followers or party members.

Can this vulgarisation be checked? Nothing is impossible but nothing seems to be possible in the coming years. Only a revolutionary, or at least a radical, upsurge can reverse the trend. At present, we can certainly attempt for a halt. Opinion-makers must assert themselves and create a strong atmosphere in favour of a Prime Minister who can maintain a minimum decency at the top.

The author, a Hindi columnist, is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi.

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