Who will tell the emperor?
It has been well established, since the beginning of human conflict, that success has a thousand fathers and that defeat is an orphan. But just in case you forgot, there is always Indian politics to serve as a reminder.
An interesting story appeared on Saturday, 21 May, in a national newspaper. It must have been written on Friday – or within a day of the election results that devastated Congress. The party was demolished in two states where it was expecting to retain power (Assam and Kerala), and two states where it was confident of coming to power with the help of allies (Bengal and Tamil Nadu).
The story – attributed to “sources” that refused to be identified – claimed that Congress heir and de facto chief Rahul Gandhi had been “reluctant” to enter into an alliance with Communists in Bengal. It added that Mrs Sonia Gandhi was equally “reluctant” to campaign in Bengal given her “close proximity” with Mamata Banerjee. It is a bit odd that the “sources” did not want to be named; this was not investigative journalism, but no matter. All this means is that the faithful alibi used to protect the dynasty in charge of Congress, has once again been trotted out.
The alibi is bunkum. Rahul Gandhi pushed for the alliance – in cahoots with CPI (M) Secretary General Sitaram Yechury – as the magic formula that would uproot Mamata Banerjee from Bengal. If he had succeeded, the same storytellers would have celebrated Rahul Gandhi as the master strategist nonpareil and anointed him king of the future. A special AICC session would probably have been summoned within a fortnight to promote Rahul Gandhi to party president. Rahul Gandhi did not show any reluctance during the campaign. He appeared very happy on the stage with the last Left Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya, and Congress took special delight in describing Mamata Banerjee as “corrupt” and “incompetent”. The problem is not that that the alibi is bogus, but that the Congress party plays accepts it helplessly.
Victory and defeat are part and parcel of democracy: a political party should not be overwhelmed by either. If anything, there are as many dangers inherent in victory as there are in defeat. The only sensible response to victory is good, honest governance in which the maximum benefits of policy go to the poor. Leaders who know this will be re-elected; those who do not will lose office.
Defeat demands only one consequence: honesty. The difficult bit is that you are required to be honest about yourself rather than about others. The fault, as Shakespeare pointed out, lies not in the stars but within ourselves. Lip service and the rather ostentatious repetition of ‘introspection’ – a word whose meaning has been degraded by overuse – won’t do. If this is so obvious why should it be a problem? After all, senior Congress leaders like Digvijaya Singh, who surely want the best for their party, have accepted the need for “surgery”, which implies that you cannot heal a cancer by taking aspirin or sticking on band-aid.
But here’s the thing. If Congress leaders were honest they would have to remove the blindfold and admit that the emperor, or heir apparent if you want to be more specific, has no clothes. In the famous fable, only a child has the courage to say so, because the child is neither beholden to the emperor nor seeks any favour for the future. The only garb that the Congress leader-emperor has is a shrill negativism devoid of logic or content.
The voter can notice what the Congress refuses to see: that you promote yourself at the expense of the people, as Congress is doing – under its leader’s specific instructions – by stalling Parliament. When you hurt the nation’s economy, you wound the people, who are beneficiaries of growth. There is legitimate space for opposition in democracy; indeed, without opposition there is no democracy. But there is no leeway for bitter, pointless excess. Grace and a well-articulated alternative economic platform are the only way forward.
Neither is likely. There will be some noises in the immediate aftermath, and then vociferous advocates will appear on television arguing that the emperor can do no wrong. At some suitable date, when rains have cooled the weather, a half-day AICC session will pass a resolution making the excuses we have heard so often before. The emperor will survive, without ever having visited a tailor.
You can get away with this once, and if you are fortunate more than once. But there will come a moment when it becomes once-too-often.