THE NON IDEAS OF IN­DIA

India Today - - SIGNATURE -

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.

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