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Out of my mind: A fractured politics

Never before has anyone questioned an Indian Prime Minister’s educational certificates.

Written by Meghnad Desai | Updated: May 15, 2016 12:05:49 am
Amit Shah and Arun Jaitley flashing Prime Minister Narendra Modi's degree at a press conference Amit Shah and Arun Jaitley flashing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s degree at a press conference

The Uttarakhand quarrel has now been settled after six weeks of judgments and counter-judgments by lower and higher courts. It illustrates that there is a fault not so much in the Constitution as in the quality of the political life in the country. Never before has the Indian polity seen this much bitterness between the political parties as in the last two years.

When Barack Obama became President, a lot of people in America, especially the Tea Party groups, were in total denial that a Black American could be or should be the president. Thus, for the first time in American politics, doubts were expressed about the authenticity of a President’s birth certificate.

Donald Trump and other ‘birthers’ insisted that Obama was not a genuine American. This was a racist opinion but it disguised itself in the language of law and accuracy.

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Same can be said about the battle over Narendra Modi’s degrees. Never before has anyone questioned an Indian Prime Minister’s educational certificates. But then Modi is thought to be an upstart by the old elite. How can a chaiwallah aspire to and become Prime Minister? Graduates of Doon School, St Stephens and Cambridge were appalled at the affront of an OBC to climb to the top. Hence the attack on the authenticity of his degrees.

Such attitude is not new. Mahadev Desai records in his diaries that Gandhiji thought Ambedkar must be a Brahmin as he was so well-educated. Mahadev Desai corrected him but noted that Ambedkar seemed to lack Hindutva, a word he records in the diary. Such prejudices are deeply ingrained in the psyche of a hierarchical caste society.

Even Arvind Kejriwal who is normally for the underdog has a difficulty about Modi that goes beyond the merely political. As in Obama’s case, no amount of proof will convince the bhadralok that Modi qualifies.

But there is on the other side a visceral hatred of Sonia Gandhi within the Parivar which is difficult to explain. When Sonia arrived as a bride, the denizens of Lutyens Delhi were snooty about her not being (at the very least) a princess deserving of the secular prince. But that passed.

When she took over the Congress party as the senior member of the dynasty, the anger rose among the rest. When she defeated the NDA and could have legitimately come to power, the display of undemocratic anger — all that shaving off the head and fasts unto death threatened by prominent women politicians of the BJP — was a self-goal. Sonia cleverly turned it against them. She got the kudos for her sacrifice and retained power without holding office.

It is this persistent dislike of Sonia which eats up the BJP. It is another form of racial discrimination compounded by gender issues. The two strong dislikes — of Modi as an OBC upstart and of Sonia as an Italian interloper are, strangely, mirror images of each other.

The two dislikes are now costing Indian citizens a broken Parliament. The code of conduct for Parliamentarians hardly seems to bind any MP from the most senior downwards. No one seems to listen to the Speaker of the Lok Sabha or Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha.

Indian democracy has a high quality thanks to its voters. But with parliamentary politics fractured beyond repair, dangers lurk ahead.

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