February 21, 2020
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Dead-End Street

Dead-End Street
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If power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, how in India 2005 does a decent, sober, honest individual enter public life, acquire power through the people's mandate and hope to exercise it with any sort of integrity? I apologise for this rather long-winded sentence, but those who wish to live in a fair, just and free society must increasingly wonder if the choice they are confronted with is between tweedledum and tweedledee. In other words, no choice at all. If the difference between Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi, A.B. Vajpayee, Laloo Prasad Yadav, Jayalalitha and Parkash Singh Badal is minuscule, if all politicians are self-serving scoundrels chasing wealth, power and easy women, should the concerned citizen opt out of civil society in disgust? It is a tough call and I admit the temptation to opt out sometimes seems irresistible. The dilemma is exacerbated by those who claim to govern in our name since they continuously advertise a fierce and unswerving commitment to value-based and Gandhian politics. The phrase "ends and means" has become a joke because ends in our country always justify means.

The tainted ministers' dispute is merely one example of the so-called "compulsions" hampering those sitting on the gaddi even as comparisons like "my tainted minister is better than yours" are paraded. Indeed, we are asked to sympathise with governments and prime ministers who hold their nose, look the other way and confess, "It is a matter of survival", while their aides secretly brief the media on how reluctant their man was to sign a certain piece of paper. One can argue that it is easy for me to criticise because I don't have to take the life-or-death midnight decisions, and therefore enjoy the prerogative of the harlot—power without responsibility.

Thus if corruption is written into the exercise of power, is there a way out of this dead-end street? Only if as a nation and as a democracy we lower our expectations. One reason our politicians disappoint and disillusion us is because we swallow their precious humbug hook, line and sinker. The notion of a Mr Clean is a fraud. He may begin as one but sooner rather than later he will become a Mr Dirty. The solitary choice we have is of degree. It is the less corrupt versus the hugely corrupt. That is our new electoral paradigm.

If the Mahatma was alive today, his colleagues and acolytes would warn him that power and idealism are mutually exclusive and would advise him to take lessons in practical politics.

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