Retro Rhetoric, Retrospective Politics and the Personal as Political - The New Indian Express

Retro Rhetoric, Retrospective Politics and the Personal as Political

Published: 29th December 2013 06:00 AM

Last Updated: 21st January 2014 01:10 PM

On the last Sunday of 2013, a year that was surprisingly better than it threatened to be, here are a few thoughts and observations.

The idea of God, social scientists like Georg Lichtenberg have observed, is nothing more than personified incomprehensibility. You could say much of India’s politics is characterised by incomprehensibility personified. There is the party and there are the personalities, each baffles the other.

Like it is clear that the phraseology… “Personally, I think…” is the ‘Siri-command’ that precedes a Rahul Gandhi rebellion—against any Congress government—in the Centre or in states. The personal thoughts of the Congress Vice-President now define the “second thoughts” of his party. Sure. They are always in tune with public sentiments, but the question persists: why do they always arrive with retrospective effect? What does it say about the state of the party? And they follow a pattern: a tweet followed by an ambush and an admonishment. The feckless—impacted by the whiplash effect of the political turnaround—sulk in private.

Like the manner in which Rahul Gandhi “nonsensed” the Maharashtra cabinet’s decision—to reject the judicial commission’s report on the Adarsh Scam—would have sent most politicians into a cringe. The Congressmen on the dais though managed to keep a straight face. Maharashtra CM Prithviraj Chavan even offered a tame “we will reconsider” in response. Gratingly, unlike his political mentor Manmohan Singh, Chavan couldn’t be “elsewhere” when his decision was rubbished.

Like I wonder whose idea the personalised blog by Narendra Modi was. Like I think that at best it convinced the already convinced. For others, no apology will be apologetic enough. Those unconvinced will likely remain unconvinced. Does Team Modi poll focus groups and voters regularly? It would be interesting to know if the blog did result in any gains.

Like commentators and pundits might want to refrain from telling people to move on. Those who nurse a grievance will be aggrieved and agitate. Look at those affected by the 1984 riots petitioning for justice in courts abroad for a closure. Also is it something that they want to tell Pandits chased out of the Kashmir Valley? Like I think the way forward is to install an institutional mechanism to prevent leverage of caste and religious sentiments—the Election Commission may, for instance, consider disqualification of involved parties. Now that’s an item for the vision statement.

You would have noticed that the AAP regime in Delhi has ushered into vogue, sepia-toned retro politics—the idea of austerity, public opinion and the emphasis on equality. The singing that followed the swearing-in, I think, is a first. The Manna Dey number from Paigham symbolises working class idealism located somewhere between Che and Mao. Worrisome: Embedded in its strains also are reminders of the ideas of collectivism and communism that failed nations and millions. To some, AAP shows how far mainstream parties have strayed, to others AAP is disruptive and radical. Whatever the truth, the rub-off will only benefit democracy.

Like the rejection of the ‘red-light culture’ is a good idea for universal adoption. I wonder if the leaders who measure their stature by the length of their car-val-cade are embarrassed at all by Arvind Kejriwal’s journey by Metro to Ramlila Maidan. Meanwhile, the AAP leadership might want to think about this: the eventual aim of governance should be the end of ‘janata darbars’ through systemic reforms—not setting up new ones.

Coming back to retrospective politics, it does seem disingenuous for the Congress to blame the Opposition for stalling bills focused on accountability. Take the Whistleblower’s Bill. The need for legislative protection for whistleblowers was highlighted in 2007 in the 4th Report of the 2nd Administrative Reforms Commission. The bill was introduced in 2010 and a comprehensive report of Parliamentary Standing Committee was submitted by 2011. The bill could have been passed along with Lokpal as a package, but the government didn’t push it. Ditto has been the fate of the bill for citizens’ services and grievances bill. The Standing Committee Report is with government since August 2012. So who really is the villain here?

Like nothing illustrates the sloth in the UPA better than the parade of 15 bills dealing with critical issues of education pending in Parliament—some since 2005. These deal with issues ranging from curbing malpractices to setting up standards to institution of tribunals. And it is not the opposition but ministers within the government—beneficiary e-barons—who have stalked and stalled the bills.

Like I would not hold my breath on inflation—or the prices of vegetables and fruits coming down anytime soon. That it takes a conference of chief ministers to grasp the obvious—food inflation is located in poor PDS systems, hoarding and archaic agricultural produce market laws—illustrates the depth of political capacity in Congress. That it took the party 10 years in power and an electoral drubbing to appreciate the pain of rising prices illuminates the state of political intent.

And finally: May 2014 be an empowering new year for all readers.

Shankkar Aiyar is the author of  Accidental India: A History of the Nation’s Passage through

Crisis and Change

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