Young princes versus sulky old men

Before writing this week’s column I looked up blogs on columns past and noticed that since the attack on Mumbai...

Written by Tavleen Singh | Published:January 18, 2009 12:48 am

Before writing this week’s column I looked up blogs on columns past and noticed that since the attack on Mumbai I have talked of nothing but Islamist terrorism. So this week despite the good news that Pakistan has finally admitted that it has terrorist camps to close down and terrorists to arrest I am not going to dwell on the evils of Islamism. I am going to talk instead of domestic politics and the doldrums our two main political parties find themselves in with a Lok Sabha election getting closer by the week.

The party of Hindu nationalism should be riding a tidal wave to victory if you consider that Islamist terrorism is the issue of the moment. But,it is not. It has just been publicly embarrassed by one of its most aged leaders who appeared as if out of some forgotten old people’s home to declare petulantly that he wants to be prime minister. Bhairon Singh Shekhawat called a press conference to declare his intentions and then in the tone of a sulky old man talked a lot of nonsense about corruption and age. He had ‘seniority’,he said irrelevantly,since anyone could see that he was really very,very senior.

At no stage did anyone hear him articulate a coherent view on any of the political issues of the day. It should have been easy enough for the Bharatiya Janata Party’s senior (no pun intended) leaders to dismiss him as just an old fool but the party President chose to engage him in dialogue and then we heard a lot of nonsense about bathing in the Ganga and taking a shower. Only those familiar with Hindu rituals would have understood.

Meanwhile,even as the party’s candidate for Prime Minister was recovering from the shock of a man older than his 82 years daring to challenge him for the job,from ‘vibrant’ Gujarat came the alarming news that some of India’s most important industrialists thought it was time for Narendra Modi to lead India. Poor,poor Advaniji. He has waited so long for his chance. Driven chariots hither and thither under saffron flags and now he is being thwarted by fellow travellers. And,increasingly the BJP rank and file are beginning to worry about his ability to bring them back to power the next time round. He is too old,they whisper amongst themselves,and there are going to be so many new young voters at the next election.

Young being the word that matters. Will Rahul Gandhi not have more appeal? And,Rahul baba,hoping that this will indeed happen,went off once more on one of his poverty safaris and took with him this time the British Foreign Secretary,David Miliband. Like two schoolboys on a mid-term break they allowed photographers to take pictures of them sleeping in a village hut. Nobody interviewed the poor woman whose hut it was or she would have said for sure that she would like to swap accommodation with them in a more permanent way. It is wrong to mock the poor but nobody appears to have taught Rahul baba this in his political science classes. So if he isn’t sleeping in village huts he is playing at being a construction worker or trudging down rural roads in expensive trainers.

Will these exercises in understanding the horror of being poor help him become Prime Minister? Will it lure young voters to the Congress Party? Nobody knows for sure but meanwhile the Congress Party’s senior leaders have taken to routinely announcing that Rahul Gandhi is ready to be Prime Minister. His only rival is his sister,Priyanka,who has lately been promoted on TV as a suitable future Prime Minister of India. Guess why? Because she looks like her grandmother. In a documentary I saw on Zee TV recently on the occasion of her birthday,the adoring anchorwoman said more than once that Priyanka,even as a little girl,had looked like her dadi. And,if that is not qualification enough to rule India what is?

Sadly,I have to admit that even as someone who has been a conscientious objector to the ancient Indian practice of hereditary democracy I am on the side of political scions these days. The spectacle of Shekhawat making a bid in his quivering old man’s voice was so nauseating that I found myself wondering if I had not been wrong in my opposition to political heirs. It would of course be wonderful if we could throw up real leaders like Barack Obama but since this is not a remote possibility at the moment we are better off making do with young princes than settling for very old men. It is time we insisted on an expiry date for politicians.

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