06 Nov 17

A Mellow Ray of Hope

JP thinks the answer to bad politics is good politics, not no politics

A few minutes into Satyajit Ray’s Jalsaghar and there comes a moment that defines JP, Jayaprakash Narayan of the Lok Satta Party. The genial bhadralok, the sole audience, is enraptured by the raag being rendered to perfection by the sitarist sitting opposite. The bhadralok’s eyes are closed and his head is tilted, and he looks old and forlorn, just like his crumbling haveli. But he has music for company and he is unperturbed by the changing world around him, a world that will soon have no place for him. Unmindful, he listens, and listens, and the seconds turn to minutes as the musician, too, is lost in a world similar to the bhadralok’s, and then, all of a sudden, comes the defining moment. Eyes still shut, head still tilted, the bhadralok leaks out a whimper of appreciation, “Hmm”. And then the moment is gone, lost forever. That’s JP for you, lost in a world that no longer appreciates nuances, no longer demands that a politician never pander to the lowest common denominator, that there is always a moment for everyone, and victory or defeat, Government or Opposition, the ends never justify the means.

I say this with no malice towards Arvind Kejriwal, a contemporary of JP and founder of the Aam Aadmi Party¬† “and like him a civil servant” but the truth is that JP could have been Kejriwal and he chose not to. It is an open secret: middle-class angst cannot find release, and its heroes glory, if they aren’t hoisted on the shoulders of the Anna Hazares of this world. There are hundreds and thousands of Angry Young Men in this land, all of them as articulate, as educated, as angry, as frustrated as Kejriwal” but none have got to where he has. Why? Because only the original had the foresight to climb onto non-middle class shoulders and grab a free ride.

Much has changed since those heydays of the Anna Movement  you only have to revisit the articles, the speeches, the video clips, the tweets to realise that Kejriwal is not a patch on what he stood for two years ago. Every new day brings with it a new double-speak, a new broken promise, a new U-turn, a new same old story. This is understandable. When a man is artificially propelled to political stratosphere he loses not only gravity but also gravitas. JP has both in equal measure; well-grounded, well-versed. He thinks the answer to bad politics is good politics, not no politics. Where does that get him? He has shown himself to be an able administrator, a brilliant doctor who later topped the civil services and went on to plan and execute multi-sector reforms. He wants growth and prosperity, not populist, neo-communist stalemates. He wants FDI in retail, not farmer suicides.

Where does that get him? He wants decentralisation, not the farcical cacophony of Poorn Swaraj. He wants judicial reforms and an end to corruption, not judicial name-calling and stifling bureaucracy. He wants thousands of Khemkas on the go, not anarchists on a rampage. Where does that get him? He wants to end crony capitalism, not begin an era of wild accusations and Licence Permit Raj. He wants to promote science, not veto nuclear energy and GM foods. Where does that get him? The answer is that it gets him nowhere. In a country where films are judged on their ability to break the 100 crore barrier, there is little space for Jalsaghar. We want to be duped by grand plans that promise us a utopia. We are out to make sense out of senselessness and let no one tell us it is impossible to do so. Self-flagellation is addictive.

Good politicians have eyes, they watch and learn. They spot a worthy competitor and want to be like him. Envy is a worthy attribute to have if one wants to improve; the theory of evolution also applies to politics. For India to do well in the coming years, someone has to spot JP. But he does not have the backing of Anna or the media. He does not squirm when called a cancer and an agent of Monsanto by an AAP leader. He does not make false or populist promises. He does not mind when a party claiming to fight corruption puts up a candidate against him. He does not accuse anyone. He does not want referendums or closing down of existing systems. Where does that get him? He does not care.

This article first appeared in Newsminute on June 19, 2014.

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