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THEATRE OF THE ABSURD

Watching television these days is like watching the theatre of the absurd. To demean the office of the president and reduce the head of State to a pawn, manipulated by petty politicians for their personal ends, is totally unwarranted. It makes a mockery of all that is dignified and respectable in a democracy and in society at large. Our political leaders have hogged the limelight on the small screen and have become performers, much like in a circus, enacting their roles in the political nautanki every evening.

For the plethora of television channels, it is easy programming that does not require much thought. It involves getting presenters to ask a few obvious questions and the rest falls into place like a bad joke. It is embarrassing to see the elected leadership of over a billion people parade itself in this way, spewing inanities and diluting public discourse.

Indians have become the victims of this vocal, often shrill, charade. There was a time when we looked up to our leaders with pride, wanting to emulate them. The energetic mind of Jawaharlal Nehru, the quiet austerity of Lal Bahadur Shastri, the confident vitality of Indira Gandhi, her later development into an authoritarian leader were the diverse realities that taught us about the many constructs, often unpredictable, in their political play. Today, sixty years after independence, the majority of our politicians are insular men and women, indulging in superficial rhetoric, fast becoming caricatures in a contemporary comic book.

The Indian politicians in 2007 seem to have an odd aspiration, a desperate need to feature in magazines, newspapers and television shows along with film stars, sports people, and socialites. Once elected, their priority is to make sure that their material needs are organized — homes, farmhouses, cars, membership to clubs and spas for themselves and their children, non-stop travel, obsessive eating and drinking, being constantly entertained by entrepreneurs and professionals who need to move the lazy machine of governance, and collecting all manners of remuneration to do their allocated jobs.

Promises not kept

Promises made in the manifesto are put aside for three to four years, after which the immense greed for more begins to overwhelm them. As they add the second and third tier to their list of goodies, the malaise of greed for more becomes a raging cancer. There is no joy greater than exploiting and staying immersed in the ocean of wealth created by others — those hard-working, risk-taking businessmen and professionals, individuals whose energy, creativity and dedication to growth are perpetually interrupted and stalled by these politicians and their babus. This is the tragedy of Bharat and India.

This wanting to be something they are not has degraded the profession of politics, the intellectual discourse and, most important, it has corroded the polity. Its effects are there for all to see, which is why a frustrated, insulted electorate tosses these men and women across the table every five years. It is their only salvation. Alas, the shrewd politician and babu have learned to adjust to this too. They have evolved a conservation mechanism for themselves, whereby they continue to survive and grow paying scant regard to the larger issues of governance. This is the saddest commentary on contemporary India.

Here is a bizarre thought. President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam has announced that he will contest if his victory is guaranteed, and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat has proclaimed that he will, in that event, not contest. Given Sharad Pawar’s past adverse political relationship with Pratibha Patil, a plea for a conscience vote looks like an orchestrated effort by the third front to dislodge the UPA mid-term. Is Indian democracy moving towards a presidential system'

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