THE NON IDEAS OF INDIA
It used to be about trying to do something. Now it’s about trying to be someone.” That was Margaret Thatcher, most recently articulated by Meryl Streep in the 2011 movie Iron Lady. She could well have been speaking about Indian politicians. There’s Sonia Gandhi, with her handspun saris and homegrown socialism, trying to be Indira Gandhi of 1971, still recalling her mother- in- law by dedicating institutions in her memory, most recently a girls’ college in Rae Bareli. There’s Rahul Gandhi, with his latest speech in Kullu, Himachal Pradesh, trying to be Rajiv Gandhi of 1985, railing against party elders who “rule the roost while the rest only discharge their responsibilities without realising their fundamental rights”. And there’s Manmohan Singh trying to be The Great Liberaliser of 1991, reversing the “climate of pessimism”, forgetting that he doesn’t have the latter day equivalent of P. V. Narasimha Rao. When ideas fail, people resort to ideals. Yes, of course, as Rahul Gandhi said in Kullu, the Congress must work together, but is there a blueprint? Yes, as Sonia Gandhi said in Rae Bareli, education is the key to a bright future, but do we know when her dream of a model school in every block will come to fruition? As for the Prime Minister, he told us a month ago that he would revive investor sentiment, both domestic and international, but has he moved an inch from where Pranab Mukherjee left the finance ministry, allegedly in a shambles?
Since this is the season to be English, let’s hear Dame Maggie again. “One of the great problems of our age is that we are governed by people who care more about feelings than they do about thoughts and ideas.” Indeed, that is why L. K. Advani willed his doubtlessly creaking bones into a rath yatra in 2009, hoping to recapture the chariot of fire of 1990. That is why Narendra Modi in 2012 is still stuck in the hang- me- if- I- am- guilty cycle of 2002, saying to Shahid Siddiqui what he has told several journalists before. And that is why BJP is yet to recover from the backlash against India Shining in 2004. Here was a brand new philosophy, encompassing a confident India, defeated by a dated, borrowed idea, that of the aam aadmi. But the Congress idea, drafted by a team comprising Jairam Ramesh and Salman Khurshid, had the power of belief. Look at them now: Both men are waiting to exhale, as Rahul Gandhi ponders over how to transform his cameo into a starring role.
Elsewhere, politics has moved on. There is a great debate in Europe between the politics of austerity and the politics of spending. In America, yes it’s a choice between the aloof President Barack Obama and the facile Republican candidate Mitt Romney, but there is also an argument between big government and small state. And it is not a vague choice— Romney has promised to cut federal spending to 20 per cent of GDP while Obama is committed to expanding Medicaid. In India, we can’t even get parties to commit to FDI in retail without changing their mind every fortnight. Back to Thatcher again? Yes, this is what she said: “We will stand on principle or we will not stand at all.” Catch an Indian politician saying that.
THERE’S MANMOHAN SINGH TRYING TO BE THE GREAT LIBERALISER OF 1991, REVERSING THE “CLIMATE OF PESSIMISM”, FORGETTING THAT HE DOESN’T HAVE THE LATTER DAY EQUIVALENT OF P. V. NARASIMHA RAO.