Hypersensitivity is the doubtful virtue of politicians. Spokespeople are a case in point. They dive into the discourse with the enthusiasm of bulls wrecking the crockery in the logic kitchen where the chips fall where they may, which is usually on shoulders. Reason is not lacking, but the quality of the rebuff and the rebuffer is usually lopsided.
Take for example, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s opinion of the anti-CAA protests as “sad and bad”. The guy is a global achiever, a born Indian who made it to the top of a corporation which influences and changes the destiny of humanity. Of course, finding a Nadella political equivalent with equal stature to lob the ball back is hard. Spokespersons do the best they can, but for saying Nadella needs to be educated, a loud guffaw is unavoidable. The enthusiasm of such defences is not pigmented with subtlety.
Guys, politics can be fun too. Long dead US Vice-President Adlai Stevenson I on Republicans: “If they will stop telling lies about the Democrats, we will stop telling the truth about them.”
Winston Churchill on Clement Attlee: “An empty cab pulled up to Downing Street. Clement Attlee got out.”Narendra Modi to Congress: “You will have to agree that I have good political sense. I cannot do away with the MGNREGA, as it is a living reminder of your mistakes.”
Politicians, like many genus of achievers, run on ego. They are people too and people can’t help it. People forget that the passage of time is swift and only those who made seminal impressions on history pass its merciless immortality test—leaders who changed the game for better or for worse, great economists who became eponymous philosophies themselves or industry leaders who have built enduring edifices with strong foundations. It is impossible for party spokesmen to achieve that sort of superhero stature. Mind you, it’s not just the BJP, which sees Pakistan’s hand in tukda-ing: Indira Gandhi immortalised the CIA “foreign hand” as the most destabilising influence of 1970s India.
I bet no millennial would have heard of Dev Kant Barooah who claimed “India is Indira” in 1975. Or Kalpanath Rai, who called Rajiv Gandhi a “diamond”. I doubt the same of the current Union mantri Giriraj Singh except in parts of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. His latest gem was that kids go to missionary schools, IIT and abroad where they start eating beef! Seriously? He wants the Gita to be taught to students. An admirable sentiment. However, is he referring to its impact as mankind’s greatest treatise on strategy and the philosophy of courage? Doubt it.
What outsiders say makes no difference to the state. Donald Trump may tweet away against Iranian mullahs, but they will go on shooting and jailing protestors. So will Syria’s Assad. Fortunately, Indian democracy has not lost its negotiating power and has governments which are willing to meet halfway, or at least a quarter of the mile. A bit of clever humility will serve the politician’s lungs better. Or by being more loyal than the king, they end up being jokes themselves.
(Ravi Shankar can be contacted at email@example.com)