End of a Low Dishonest Decade
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth. – W H Auden September 1, 1939
Before settling down to compose this piece, I indulged myself in the luxury of a turkey-roast potatoes-peas lunch garnished with HP sauce and accompanied by a glass of Rosé Champagne – nearest possible to saffron – to be followed by almond shuffle and Turkish coffee. After all, don’t forget, my guesstimate – 300 seats for NDA plus/minus 10% – turned to land nearer to the bulls eye than the projections of most professional psephologists and TV know-alls.
A few sips of the sparkling wine and I was reminded of Edward Gibbon’s description of the feast in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire which describes how Attila, the Hun, indulged in a least three toasts for every course. So, like Falstaff in Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor I suggested to myself: “Go fetch me a quart of sack; put a toast in’t.” And all that to toast the three heroes of an epochal event – the resounding triumph of the NDA.
You’ll wonder what did the Bard mean by the above in today’s English. He’s asking for a great deal of wine with, literally, a piece of toast in it. I can hear your disgusted outrage and objections to adding toast to wine. Actually, that was quite a common practice in those days. This is thought to be due to the quality of wine then was vastly inferior to our modern vintages. Thus, placing a piece of toast within a jug was supposed to soak up some of the acidity and improve the flavor. This also was possibly a way of making use of a piece of stale bread, which, supposedly, improved its palatability.
The Republic of India
I raised the glass, first of all, to the Republic of India and the institutions that support its mighty edifice, especially the Election Commission. Look at the list of fourteen free and fair elections we have had since Independence and compare them with the dismally bleak record of all the countries in our neighborhood.
There was indeed no dearth of Cassandra of despair, especially in the West who were deeply pessimistic about the future of the Indian Republic. Remember the dark prognosis of that arch-imperialist, Winston Churchill never short of pompous turn of phrase, who predicted during the House of Commons debate on India Independence Bill:
Power will go to the hands of rascals, rogues, freebooters; all Indian leaders will be of low caliber and men of straw. They will have sweet tongues and silly hearts. They will fight amongst themselves for power and India will be lost in political squabbles. A day would come when even air and water would be taxed in India.
We proved him wrong. There were always experts like Neville Maxwell around assuring at the end of each general election that it was the last. What a staggering shock for them that a county with population of 120 million conducted an election in 2014 which saw 66.38% of the 814-million-strong Indian electorate exercising their franchise, helping the country set an all-time voter turnout record. The 2014 polling percentage in the world’s biggest democratic exercise comfortably surpassed the 1984 turnout of 64% when Rajiv Gandhi became the prime minister after the assassination of Indira Gandhi. BJP’s prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi on Monday wrote on micro-blogging site Twitter, “The biggest joy of 2014 Elections has been the increased turnout. Braving the scorching heat and the rain people turned out in large numbers.”
Don’t forget, dear readers, 551 million voters cast their ballots this year. And this number is more than the combined population of the US, Germany, Canada and the UK.
You’ll also recall a year before Nehru died, the American expert Welles Hangen (later captured and killed in Cambodia while covering the war) published, in 1962, his book After Nehru, Who? He listed eight names. One of them was Lal Bahadur Shastri. Nirad C. Chaudhuri had another worry – after Nehru what? He predicted chaos. Chaudhuri was egregiously wrong. It was democracy after Nehru. Why? Because it had been democracy during the Nehru years.
Hangen, however, was worried that none of the eight names he suggested would fit Nehru’s big shoes. But India’s democracy ensured that any foot could fit the shoe. In the democracy that our Founding Fathers bequeathed and Nehru shaped, men did not matter, institutions did. So 50 years after he died (2014 is his 125th birth anniversary as well), the democracy he honed, has not just survived, but is thriving.
There were, indeed, some trying times for the country in the decade and a half after Nehru – drought, war, economic hardships and the Emergency, ironically imposed by his dear daughter Indira Gandhi. Despite all these, the Indian voters had their say.
Nehru was a creature of his times, and his solutions to the country’s problems have to be seen in the context of those times. We owe a lot of what we enjoy today to the foundations laid down by Nehru and his collaborators. A strong democratic tradition, secularism, self-reliance, a solid foundation of industry, the advancements made in the field of science and technology, and the prestige that India enjoys on the world stage are what we can today call Nehru’s legacy.
“My legacy to India is hopefully 400 million people capable of governing themselves,” he once said. It certainly lives on.
The Common Voter
My second toast was for the common Indian voter who lived up to the faith of the Founding Fathers of the Constitution who empowered him with adult franchise. Ultimately, it is this man who, in all his rustic wisdom, decided to throw out lock stock and barrel the notorious scam-ridden rulers of the last “low dishonest decade” who plundered the national treasury with impunity. It is he who lent his unflagging support to this historic campaign that rowed NDA to power.
On the day the Constitution of India was adopted, Dr Rajendra Prasad who had had presided over the deliberations of the Constituent Assembly, delivered a valedictory address. In all humility, permeated with profound wisdom, he submitted to the House:
Some people have doubted the wisdom of adult franchise. Personally, although I look upon it as an experiment the result of which no one will be able to forecast today, I am not dismayed by it. I am a man of the village and although I have had to live in cities for a pretty long time, on account of my work, my roots are still there. I, therefore, know the village people who will constitute the bulk of this vast electorate. In my opinion, our people possess intelligence and commonsense. They also have a culture which the sophisticated people of today may not appreciate, but which is solid. They are not literate and do not possess the mechanical skill of reading and writing. But, I have no doubt in my mind that they are able to take measure of their own interest and also of the interests of the country at large if things are explained to them. In fact, in some respects, I consider them to be even more intelligent than many a worker in a factory, who loses his individuality and becomes more or less a part of the machine which he has to work. I have, therefore, no doubt in my mind that if things are explained to them, they will not only be able to pick up the technique of election, but will be able to cast their votes in an intelligent manner and I have, therefore, no misgivings about the future, on their account. I cannot say the same thing about the other people who may try to influence them by slogans and by placing before them beautiful pictures of impracticable programmes. Nevertheless, I think their sturdy commonsense will enable them to see things in the right perspective.
Hasn’t the voter of India – lettered and unlettered – lived up to the faith of the Founding Fathers? The common man of this county not only has sturdy common sense but a lot of patience and perseverance. He’s also very trusting.
Unfortunately, however, his trust in the rulers of the day has often been belied. But that hasn’t robbed him of his faith in the democratic system of governance enshrined in the Constitution. When one set of gods failed him, he turned to another. He voted for Indira Gandhi to give the country strong, stable government and remove poverty which she promised to. When she, instead, clamped down the Emergency to save her gaddi, he ignominiously threw her out when it came to his turn to decide. He was equally decisive to throw out a squabbling leadership of Janata Party in 1979. This time he has trusted the BJP which has won on its own a working majority of 282 seats and a very comfortable total of 336 with its NDA Partners. The new Government won’t have to lean on clutches of regional players by diluting its well thought out policies and programs. And come to think of it, from two seats in 1984 to 282 in 2014 for a party of political untouchables commonly maligned as Hindu nationalists, is no mean achievement by any stretch of the imagination.
And while Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party got the biggest mandate for a single-party since 1984, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi have led their party to its worst and most humiliating defeat in its history. Political commentators have made a mention of the huge margin of victory of Rajiv Gandhi in 1984. Let’s not forget it was, all said, the nation’s consolation to a son whose mother was gunned down by her own guards.
The BJP-led NDA’s thumping success augurs well for the country. It means we are going to have after years a stable government where the allies won’t be able to call the shots and tie the central government down, hand and foot as Manmohan Singh’s was. (Is that the reason that the BSE Sensex is heading for the moon?)
My third and last toast was to a much-maligned hero of the 2014 electoral tsunami. He will indeed have a permanent place in our history who stood up straight with head high to accomplish the task he was entrusted despite malicious taunts and devious machinations of his detractors.
The self-declared leftists and so-called intellectuals spared no invective to malign the man. Instead of engaging him in an issue-based meaningful debate, they directed at him a torrent of abuse. On the bidding of the threatened Establishment, William Dalrymple called him in a longish dispatch on the 2014 elections in India to the 12 May, 2014 issue of New Statesman, a neo-Fascist with blood on his hands. In the same journal – once very sympathetic towards India: remember Kingsley Martin? – Mehdi Hasan went to the audacious length of comparing Modi to the infamous Serbian politician Slobodan Miloševic, also the President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia from 1997 to 2000.
At home, Congress leader Manishankar Aiyar, the epitome of sycophancy, will live the rest of his life to regret the day he mocked Narendra Modi’s Prime Ministerial ambitions. “I promise you in 21st Century Narendra Modi will never become the Prime Minister of the country. ... But if he wants to distribute tea here, we will find a place for him,” Aiyar prophesied at the venue of the AICC meeting. Now he would be literally eating his words. Otherwise literate – after all he went to St. Stephen’s – he’ll soon discover the agony of swallowing one’s words when next week Modi is administered the oath of office as the Prime Minister of India. The good old adage has it “Lord, make my words as sweet as honey ... for tomorrow I may have to eat them.”
But the same much-pilloried man has led the BJP to a spectacularly decisive victory from Ladakh in the north to Kanyakumari in the south. It is a welcome mandate for political stability in a fractured polity – a vote for economic development; it is a resounding endorsement of the Modi maxim – minimum Government, maximum governance.
It is, above all, a positive vote for change, for demolishing the stagnant status quo, for putting an end to endemic corruption that has been viciously gnawing at our system and devouring it like malignant cancer. It is a mandate by Young India for a New India, which has chosen to shed a socio-economic order mired in outlandish social welfare programs doling out a pittance designed, primarily, to perpetuate poverty and thereby a supposedly benevolent political regime. It is a resounding vote for empowerment.
Though it has not received as yet the attention of political pundits, the Modi landslide victory is a massive vote against what came to be known as the era of coalition politics. It is an end of the inglorious Governments cobbled together with the help of manipulating political parties with disparate ideologies – even if you care to call them so. Experience has shown us that ‘coalition dharma’ boils down to shutting your eyes to blatant thievery by coalition partners than accommodation of regional aspirations.
We have been witnesses to another highly undesirable attribute of ‘coalition dharma’. The party leading a coalition often resorts to covering up its inadequacies and failures by passing the buck to its partners. Manmohan Singh’s abysmal failure, for instance, to assert his authority and exercise his power was always explained away by compulsions of coalition. People were sick of these explanations. Hence, their clear-headed decision to give an unambiguous mandate to the BJP so that it could be held fully and unequivocally accountable. That the BJP on its own has been able to secure a majority in the Lok Sabha is indicative of this view. The tally of the NDA gives the BJP a comfortable margin. As Prime Minister, Narendra Modi will have to own up to his Government’s actions; unlike his predecessor, he can’t point a finger at the BJP’s allies. This allows him the freedom to decide and act decisively, but he alone would be responsible, and accountable, for both his Government’s decisions and deeds.
If Modi succeeds in delivering good governance and largely fulfilling his agenda of economic development, then future elections are more than likely to result in similar verdicts. Coalition politics may have served to further the interests of petty politicians all over the country, but the people are tired of this sickening chicanery.
The BJP’s tally is no doubt stunning. But perhaps more stunning is the Congress’s humiliating defeat. This is the worst ever electoral performance of the party – far worse than the defeat that visited Indira Gandhi in 1977. Friday, May 16 will forever be remembered in our history as a day of liberation from a incorrigibly corrupt, politically bankrupt and organizationally decrepit political Party which should go for liquidation lest it should heap more ignominy on its head. Modi had pleaded with the people of India to have a Congress Mukt Bharat. They have resoundingly endorsed it.
So, my dear readers, join me once again to celebrate the third and the last toast to celebrate a great day in our history. To the health and long life of Narendra Damodardas Modi, the hero of the 2014 election.
Continued to “Games Statisticians Play With Figures”