Indian politics is full of thugs.
I expect that most people who read the first line didn’t stop at all to question if that is actually true. It might well be; my point is that we seem to accept that for a fact. Or do we? Because even if we fully expect politicians to cheat, steal and swindle the public of its land, money, and natural resources, we apparently expect them to behave like members of royalty when it comes to their speech. Here’s a for-instance:
Nitin Gadkari, the President of the BJP, has been running his mouth off at everything but the light-post. As Arnab Goswami puts it, he’s said something a large number of people find offensive roughly once every 48 hours. ‘Why is the Congress protecting Afzal Guru? Is he their son-in-law?’… ‘Is this minister from the Congress from the clan of Shivaji Maharaj or from the clan of Aurangazeb?’… and so on. Whether this is the best strategy for the president of a national party to be following, when he should know that people don’t like it, is a separate question. What interests me is why our people find speech like this offensive at all.
Why do we think our politicians should speak in nothing but parliamentarian? Especially when we seem to have all but made peace with the idea that politicians are scumbags (again, whether or not they actually are is of no relevance here), why is it that we expect their speech to be in third-person-passive-voice? I don’t have an answer, but if I were to hazard a guess, I’d say that we as a people are content with something that looks and feels all right, no matter how disgusting the second layer. So if a politician steals money from the people, it’s all right as long as he also speaks like somebody making a how-to-speak-in-formal-english cassette. But if he says something that’s even half-provocative, then we’re all up in arms. It’s OK if you sell us crap as long as you also wrap it in aluminum foil … and provide a paper bag – plastic harms the environment.
A politician who uses gutter language and steals money is definitely worst of all. But somehow, I’d much rather that people in charge of running the country ran their mouths off at each other and left the public’s money alone – good TV, and better utilization of the public’s resources – a definite win-win, wouldn’t you say?
It is in this regard that I find the exchange between Kamal Nath and Montek Singh Ahluwalia refreshing. Kamal Nath, who is the Union minister in charge of highways in India is unhappy about the planning commission’s interventions in the highways projects, and said in a public meeting that financial planners – he pointed to Montek Singh, the Vice-Chair of the planning commission, because Montek Singh was at the gathering – are armchair advisors, and are incapable of actually getting things done. As usual, the media just couldn’t stop themselves from calling this an attack on Montek Singh, and speculating about why Kamal Nath has it in for Montek Singh. Montek Singh, however, had this to say: ‘Government is full of intense disagreements… You could say that Kamal Nath should have said this in a private letter to me, but in an age of RTI, I’d have to make public any letter Kamal Nath writes to me, so this isn’t a matter of concern’. He’s said also that he isn’t an implementer, that he is in fact an advisor, and that Kamal Nath saying this out loud isn’t an insult. He’s also pointed out that road-building could use proper planning from time to time.
Montek Singh Ahluwalia is a seasoned veteran, both of the politics of New Delhi, and of running a country (the two not necessarily being the same). He’s just gone one step higher in my estimation. I’m pleased to no end, in fact, that we finally have (some) people in power who don’t mind having differences with other people, making those differences public, and still working together as part of the same government. We had this in the heyday of Nehru’s Union government. If this is any sign of movement towards government of that type, India might do well yet.