The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The world would be a different place if its victors, in wars and elections, understood, like Serena Williams, that sometimes one needs to lose

Tennis players can sometimes say very profound things. Serena Williams has been tripped up in her path of glory. French Open, Wimbledon, US Open and Australian Open — and then came along a little-known Belgian, and Williams lost something as minor as the Family World Cup title to her. It was, Williams rued, just one of those days. But such days do come, and one has to know how to carry it off when they do. Williams did it rather well. With a combination of wisdom, candour and good grace, she simply told herself and the world, “Sometimes you need to lose.” Mistakes and having to pay for them — somehow being caught out without the right solutions — are the stuff not only of sport but also of life. Confronting them with humility and alertness, in order to learn from them, could make all the difference between greatness and ignominy, or even survival and extinction.

Winning all the time could breed a sort of unprepossessing smugness. And this is as true of tennis titles as of wars and elections. The Left Front in West Bengal, for instance, has quite forgotten what it feels like to lose a major election. It has never done so for more than a couple of decades now, and this seems to have bred its own mix of smugness and rust. There is little heroism, and much sport, in brandishing a sabre in an empty field. The longstanding crisis of political opposition in West Bengal has repeatedly afforded such a spectacle. Once again this year, the panchayat elections promises to bring victory to the Left Front on a massive scale. After the filing of nomination papers got over, it was found that the fate of at least 20 zilla parishads in four districts would be decided without a contest. This is as much a result of unabashed terrorism, particularly among the rural electorate, as political acumen. Losing to a powerful and properly organized opponent who poses a real political challenge would have made the left sit up to a whole new realm of possibilities — of salutary and creative insecurity, one might say — in the state. And the same could perhaps be said about the nation’s other victors. The Bharatiya Janata Party would have had less to celebrate in Gujarat had the Congress been a better adversary. But magnificent victories seem to be the order of the day, and Serena’s words provoke even more perverse applications. What would the world be like today if Messrs Bush and Rumsfeld felt as comfortable as she does with the bitter taste of an occasional and necessary putdown' But their experience of “winning” the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq has been rendered rather bizarre by the fact that in both cases the two mythic adversaries have somehow eluded the ignominy of defeat. Messrs Bush and Rumsfeld have won. But does that mean that Messrs bin Laden and Hussein have lost'

The question of losing and winning, and the good sense to be derived from either, are perhaps so clearly settled only in the realm of sports, where there are such things as rules and umpires. In the real life game that is war or elections, the arrogance of victory or the humility of defeat must necessarily remain more ambiguous achievements.

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