Monday, April 16, 2012

The Arrogance of a few leaders threatens the Democracy/The Sunday Standard/ April 15, 2012

The Arrogance of a few leaders threatens the Democracy of All

Arrogance and intolerance only bring agony, sooner or later. But new age political leaders see only virtue in hubris. Perhaps they learnt it from superstar Shah Rukh Khan who says, when he feels like being arrogant, he visits America. But he ends up in unjustified custody instead, and lands on Page 1 and primetime for behaving like a Khan. Mamata Banerjee is no different. She acquired front page space legitimately, thanks to her historic victory over the Left Front in West Bengal. Perhaps, it may be her last achievement as a political leader. For the past few months, Didi has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Her government arrests and slaps a criminal case against an academic for lampooning her. Earlier, she ordered that no public library or school in West Bengal can buy English newspapers. If that wasn’t enough, she went to the extent of conducting a roll call during a meeting of top industrialists and chief executives of many multinational corporations. Instead of laying the roadmap for the state’s future development and marketing West Bengal as one of the most profitable industrial destinations for investment, like a school headmistress, Mamata asked each one of them: “Will you invest in my state or not? Please tell me. Please tell me.” The corporate leaders, not used to such grilling and earthy persuasion, went back to their homes and offices with the resolve never to return to Kolkata for such scolding sessions.

Mamata’s unflinching commitment to the poor is beyond doubt. Even after becoming the chief minister, she continues to travel in an ordinary car without the massive paraphernalia that is the symbol of power for our politicians. She still travels by economy class. But her moody methods reflect her dictatorial tendencies while her mundane methods don’t reflect her maverick madness. Didi is out to prove that she has now got the authority to rule over those who had dismissed her as just another girl from the slums, who lacks the degree and pedigree the ruler of West Bengal should possess. None of the elitist coconuts (brown from outside but white inside) could ever imagine that one day they would have to sit meekly before Mamata and listen to her lessons on governance and social conduct. It’s a tragedy that political leaders are now taking democratic mandate as an unconditional licence to silence their critics and promote cronyism in their political outfits. They expect others to either fall in line or fall by the wayside. They will use any pretence in the dirty tricks department to destroy, defame and derail those who question their wily wisdom and baneful brilliance.

Mamata is not the only one. The membership of the Club of Arrogant Leaders is expanding very fast. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Jammu and Kashmir’s Omar Abdullah, Gujarat’s Narendra Modi, former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati as well as many current leaders of national parties now expect their partyworkers and the ‘aam aadmi’ to prostrate before them. Nitish’s critics claim that he goes so ballistic on any criticism that he even withdraws advertisements from newspapers and refuses plum posts to those who don’t seemingly share his leadership acumen and qualities. Since most of these leaders have either electorally defeated national parties or have captured power through devious methods, they are the ones who show a stronger level of intolerance. No doubt, some of them are personally clean. But they kill internal democracy and eliminate those who they feel can pose a threat to their leadership in the future. There are over half a dozen Union ministers who think they were born to rule, and abhor any challenge from their colleagues. Their only qualification seems to be that they were born in the right family, went to the right schools and chose the right techniques to reach the top. A large majority of top functionaries of the national parties are not in a position to win their own seats, leave alone bringing their party into power. Unlike the chief ministers, these luminaries get their power and arrogance from the financial clout they have acquired after formally joining politics. However, there are exceptions like Sheila Dikshit, Naveen Patnaik, Sukhbir Singh Badal and Akhilesh Yadav who don’t carry their official crown on their sleeves.

The rise and rise of our egoistic leaders is dangerous for the democratic functioning of both political parties and the government. The nation still remembers leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Govind Ballabh Pant, K Kamraj, Indira Gandhi, EMS Namboodiripad and Atal Bihari Vajpayee who were symbols of substance and tolerance. Now they have been replaced by the Mamatas, Nitish Kumars, Mayawatis and Omar Abdullahs for whom political power is an instrument of authority and autocratic conduct, and not of public service. Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

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