No poetry in campaign, No prose in governance


A second term. Re-election. Going back to the people. Nine weeks away from the big day, and US President Barack Obama is finding out what Jimmy Carter, the peanut farmer turned unlikely president from Plains, Georgia must have gone through when he went back to the people and found he couldn't get America to trust him with another four years.

Barack Obama may or may not be another Democrat one-termer like Jimmy Carter. And we could all be forgiven for thinking it was the mesmeric, silver-tongued orator — can’t take your eyes off him — 66-year-old Bill Clinton who was the presidential candidate here. Not this Obama. Once, molten gold. Today, despite and inspite of Michelle, tarnished, an automaton, predictable, uncomfortable in his own skin, unable to bridge the distance with America, unable to tell them that he had done the best he could, given the circumstances. Be it bringing home troops from the misbegotten wars he inherited in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Osama kill, the economy, or creating more jobs.

But as author Paul Waldeman wrote almost two years ago when Mario Cuomo, the longest serving Democratic Governor of New York faded into the shadows, in comments as relevant then for all the Obamas seeking a redemptive fresh term in office as it is today: “I keep returning to Mario Cuomo’s famous dictum that you campaign in poetry but govern in prose.”

“The poetry of campaigning is lofty, gauzy, full of possibility, a world where problems are solved just because we want them to be and opposition melts away before us. The prose of governing is messy and maddening.”

As in Charlotte, North Carolina, so too in New Delhi where everyone is already in campaign mode. Mild-mannered, soft-spoken Prime Minister Manmohan Singh included. He may not have the zing, the spring in his step of a 50-year-old. (Note though, how US presidents come in looking youthful, and then grey on the job while our leaders, worn and bedraggled and pushing seventy, blossom in office.) And as elections approach in a string of BJP ruled states and 2014 beckons, set to change political equations all over again, Dr Singh is hardly likely to do an Akhilesh Yadav Motorcycle Diaries through the bumpy, rock-addled backlanes of UP to campaign for a seat in the Lok Sabha.

He’s not a politician’s politician in the true sense of the word. He’s the CEO, India Inc, and while he did win the Congress a fresh mandate the last time, the likelihood of it happening again is very slim. Which is why the Washington Post article may well attack the man because he ‘looked the other way while his ministers enriched themselves,’ or something to that effect.

But in mistaking the wood of Delhi’s drawing room gossip for the trees, the Post failed to gauge the true measure of our complicated and messy democracy. All you ladies may have enjoyed his obvious discomfiture but whether it was Dr Singh or anyone else in his place, he or she would have done much the same, i.e. nothing.

His personal honesty has never been the issue. His assets have not grown exponentially. He owns little beyond a home in Chandigarh. He isn’t just ‘a fig leaf of honesty for his party’ as one worthy has said. He’s the real thing. Rather him, than a crook.

For him to be pilloried for the acts of omission and commission of elements in government, the bureaucracy and the business community in this three’s a crowd, oh-so-cosy relationship, is therefore just plain wrong.

Like half a dozen or more governments that have gone before him, and the many that will follow, corruption has been institutionalised to the extent and degree that it will take nothing less than an aandhi combined with a toofan to reinvent, re-order and re-arrange the entire system. It may have not been so in the Nehru-Shastri era when the titans of industry were lofty, nation-builders as was the political class. A simpler time. But the science of creaming the profits by the artful nexus of politician-bureaucrat-industrialist is as much about our electoral system that attracts the fly-by-night operator, oops! politician as it is about the all pervasive greed of the men and women whom we now blindly elect to lead us.

One isn’t even going to bring in the Anna effect. Because while Anna may have been the one who pinned our eyelids back and shook us out of our collective complacency, he too falls into the same trap — blame Singh, or the Congress for all our ills, without admitting that it’s not the one Dr Singh who is flawed but the entire system.

Replace Dr Singh and does the corruption disappear?
We’ve replaced Mr B.S. Yeddyurappa. Has the pond scum not risen to the surface in a zillion other avatars?

If Dr Singh should be critiqued, it's for his inexplicable inability to connect. Unlike the ignorant mass of middle America, middle India is not “largely inattentive and indifferent to the details of policy.” They want answers. These are no longer the gullible ganwar who believe every word the khadi-clad expound.

And that’s the BJP central dilemma in this state. Racing against time to ensure it is ready to face down the mountain of embarrassing corruption charges, they must know that whether Mr Yeddyurappa makes it up the greasy pole of the state party chief or not, giving the man the chance to decide who stands and who does not, could be very tricky. Can he be trusted to put his party first, or are the lines so blurred he will not see?

And looking beyond Yeddyurappa, will the people believe this scam-tainted government. When given a shy at governance, it lined its coffers first. If re-elected, will these guys put out for our crumbling city? Politicians. Parties. As human, as fallible as the next.

Fact is, every legislator is scrambling to pay back financiers who brought them thus far, and are in an even greater hurry to find another set of backers to bankroll the new poll. That’s probably going to be easier said than done. Getting people to buy into all the hokum when all the politico wants is to be voted back to protect his or her political investment will not be easy. In effect, that’s what India’s political system has been reduced to, really — an investment opportunity of about `30-40 crore, says a perceptive friend.

Cashing in, rumour has it, is BSY’s bete noire Ananth Kumar who is reportedly putting his plan in place. In the event that the the BJP does make a credible comeback, Kumar’s wife, probably brought in as an MLA in this assembly election could step down and make way for his re-entry into Karnataka politics. A perfect Trojan horse. From there to the city’s Race Course Road isn’t too

far a distance to traverse. Similarly in the Congress, where a complete re-alignment of forces is underway, the politics of patronage is under pressure from hard-headed politicians who (like BSY in his party) want to call the shots, this is an election that could see powerful Congressmen make their way back into the state. Like Mallikarjun Kharge and S.M. Krishna, both of whom, many believe, could file their nominations from their home towns to pave the way for a comeback of the ‘Titans’.

Cuomo believes that ‘If we get them (the people) to look past the glitter, beyond the showmanship, to the reality, the hard substance of things.. not so much with speeches that bring people to their feet as with speeches that bring people to their senses,’ then maybe we can make our votes count. I don’t know. How do we stop the charlatans from claiming they speak on our behalf? How do we test their bona fides?

‘The prose of full of compromises and half-victories that leave a sour taste in one’s mouth,’ Cuomo said. And seeking a second term in office will certainly not be the cakewalk it was the first time over.

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