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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 38

Where is the Copywriter?

Wednesday 10 September 2008, by H Y Sharada Prasad



Distinguished Gandhian freedom fighter, erudite scholar, noted writer and columnist H.Y. Sharada Prasad, 84, who was the versatile Media Advisor to two Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, passed away in New Delhi at 1.30 pm on September 2, 2008 after a prolonged illness. He was suffering from Parkinson’s disease and also a terminal lung ailment and was bed-ridden for the past eight months after a fall. Unassuming and soft-spoken, he was one of the last links with the freedom struggle and post-independence regeneration under successive Congress

After the demise of Mainstream’s first editor, C.N. Chitta Ranjan, with whom he enjoyed an intimate association, on August 2, 1990, Sharada Prasad wrote a moving piece, entitled: “He was Unpurchaseable”; and therein he succinctly observed that Chitta Ranjan was “rich in that old-fashioned word: character”. His rare insights were best revealed in his 2003 collection, The Book I Won’t be Writing and Other Essays. Remembering Sharada Prasad, who was close to N.C., we offer our sincere homage to his abiding memory by reproducing here two of his articles published in Mainstream in 1994. The first one had appeared earlier in The Asian Age, from where it was reproduced with due acknowledgment.

In April 1917, Woodrow Wilson, then President of the United States, spoke of making the world safe for democracy. A world war later, another American President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, set a new goal before America to promote the Four Freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.

Now, a further fifty years on, when no world war is in sight (unless that great trickster, history, pulls one out of his large, large, bag), a spokesman of America has just redefined America’s objective.
Guess what it is?

To support free-market democracy.

That is what Vice-President Al Gore said, standing next to President Clinton, in a little speech hailing the birth of Nelson Mandela’s South Africa.
Al Gore is no orator. He does not even have Clinton’s husky ease with words.

But what he said, shorn of any wrapping in the silver foil of eloquence, about America’s aim being to support free-market democracy was probably more honest and nearer to the bone. Gore’s words were in fact a paraphrase of the words of another American President, Calvin Coolidge, to the effect that “the business of America is business”.

The collapse of the Soviet Union has left America at a loss to know how to employ itself. (It is like our own press waking up one fine morning to find that there is no government, any government, to play an adversary role to.) Deep down its mind, America has a suspicion that soon Germany, Japan or China might challenge its supremacy.

The first two are even now economically stronger and America has to lean on them for money to play its Number One role. Some day, America fears, these two might re-acquire a military presence proportionate to their economic sinews.

For the moment, however, it is a unipolar world, with the US as the sole super-power.

But it is a super-power without a super-creed or a super-slogan. Making the world safe for free-market democracy does not have the same kind of ring that causes a throb in the heart.

Therefore other ingredients of the Pax Americana are being hastily put together—human rights, nuclear disarmament and so on.

BUT China appears to have caught America in a cleft stick. America has to prove its concern for human rights in China. At the same time there is the attraction of the large Chinese market. China too needs US investment and trade. So, face-saving games are being played on both sides. “Let the Chinese release this or that dissident leader and we’ll tell Congress that there is a definite and perceptible progress on the human rights front. That way we can safeguard both principal and principles,” America thinks. China, for its part, seems to ask: “How many billion dollars for one dissident leader?” And it continues to practice free-market communism.
They say history, more than adversity, tests character. This is true of nations as it is true of men. At this unusual moment of history when America stands alone on the peak that country needed a far-seeking statesman who could command the imagination of the entire world.
In the absence of such a leader, America could at least get hold of a master copywriter who would know how to package American interests in a more emotive slogan than the drab one of “free market democracy”.

(Mainstream, May 21, 1994)

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