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Narendrabhai would have a much stronger fight on his hands if he faced a more coherent opposition.

Delhi Diary

Battle Lost Before a Fight

Not since Chandra Shekhar’s forgettable but mercifully brief five-month government have we had rulers so inept and ham-handed. It seems as if the Keystone Cops are in power. And yet, they have such a battery of brain power, so many degrees from Harvard and Cambridge. I begin to wonder if it is just incompetence or a serious loss of nerve. It has been said before and needs to be said again, Mr Narendra Modi’s seemingly irresistible rise is directly proportional to the revulsion in the country against the Congress party. Narendrabhai would have a much stronger fight on his hands if he faced a more coherent opposition.

I write this as an erstwhile friend of the Congress who in this general election was forced to press the NOTA button. However, the predicted demise/disintegration of the party and the predicted demise/disintegration of the Nehru-Gandhi dominance is no matter for rejoicing. Those of us committed to a centre-left government, secular in character, and for those citizens who do not qualify for the embrace of India Shining, it is essential the Congress stays in one piece, ready to take over when the occasion arises. The party will need all its wits not to commit harakiri. Introspection, yes; factionalism, no.

The manner in which the Snoopgate matter, a gift from heaven, was handled is typical of the malaise. A hot, legitimate issue has been squandered by a mysterious, inexcusable delay. We are asked to believe that a 127-year-old party which has ruled India for most of its life could not find a sitting or a retired judge to head a commission of inquiry!

As D-day approaches, critics of Modi must be fair to the man. While remaining vigilant, if the script goes like that, we must give him a chance to demonstrate whether his promise to be ‘prime minister of one India’ is real or bogus.

Extended Ordeal

T.S. Eliot said April is the cruellest month, but so is half of May. India’s 16th general election has set many records. It is the longest (36 days) and if you count all the official campaigning, we would have been “busy with the general election for 72 days”. The Election Commission, which is seen as a national treasure, claims this is necessary for “security reasons”. Till date, no fatality has occurred due to polling.

Nevertheless, a 36-day election bang in the heart of summer is bad for the nation’s nerves. I would like to believe some of the terrible language used by politicians of all parties is largely the result of heat and dust, rather than a habitual foul mouth.

But there are other reasons for concern. As the Economist points out, “A stretched-out election violates the idea that all voters should have, in theory, equal knowledge about candidates and parties in the contest. The asymmetry of knowledge between a voter on April 7th and one on May 12th is obvious.” The 2009 general election took place in five phases. Given the 812 million-strong electorate, it may not be possible to conduct a single-day poll. But nine phases?

Can the Election Commission not try for a four- or five-phase general election? Our miracle men at the EC can surely pull this off.

Prey why?

A solitary eagle imperiously circles our sky in Nizamuddin every morning. It comes to our balcony (where we put out some dana and water for the pigeons and parrots) for about 15 minutes before it flies off. I frequently gaze into its eyes as it sips water and looks for something more substantial. He/she looks absolutely magnificent, though slightly menacing. It has in a sense been dom­esticated. Surprisingly, Editor who hates pig­eons (he once ate a crow in the park and we had to save him from the wrath of the deceased’s friends) has a soft corner for the eagle. He sits next to him/her quietly without any fuss from either side.

Because we put out no food for our new feathered friend, I wonder where it finds its daily sustenance. Eagles, I understand, are strict non-vegetarians and I have been suggesting to my wife that we have a responsibility to feed the creature since he/she uses our flat as a resting place. No decision has yet been taken by the Mehtas on providing the eagle anything more than water. I suspect Editor is on my side. Now I have to persuade my wife to change her policy on this pressing matter.

Hot Wind Award

Here is a quote from George Orwell taken from his essay, Politics and the English Language which fits this 2014 election perfectly: “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” My prize for ‘wind’ in these polls would go to Narendra Modi followed by Kapil Sibal. Or should it be the other way round?

Last week...

I did not appear on a single TV programme. Did I hear someone say, ‘Keep it up’.

Vinod Mehta is editorial chairman, Outlook, and its founding editor-in-chief; E-mail your diarist: vmehta AT outlookindia [DOT] com

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