“As a nation we are rather prone to talking politics; whether it is a bus-stand or in a railway compartment, hobnobbing at an exclusive cocktail party or jogging in a public park.
Of course, what passes for politics in these sessions is really gossip about scandals rooted in some blurred misinterpretation of facts – concocted into a palatable mixture that is masticated between reading newspapers and political magazines and listening to political comments on the radio.”
Normally I have no enthusiasm for politics, but I must say that I found our current Prime Minister I.K.Gujral’s address in the Parliament full of conviction and sincerity. And the man came across as such a suave and polished personality.
We were a group of friends chatting at the college canteen and I remarked that our new PM was so impressive. Obviously he must be a great diplomat considering the situation he finds himself in.
“Oh really?”, asked my friend, who is a student of Political Science. “Do you know that he passionately supported Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War?”
That completely floored me, I am afraid that I had bitten more than I could chew. I must admit that I knew nothing specifically about the man or his work. And my knowledge of political events in India could be summed up on the back of a postage stamp with space still left over.
All the others who were present were now interested. Like myself, most of them knew nothing much about the matter but seeing the way my friend had launched himself, they were interested in the unveiling spectacle. And given that he had made the comment with so much authority, they sided with him by instinct. Now they waited for me to make my next move.
I decided to side-step the issue and said, “Well, he did evolve the now famous Gujral Doctrine…”
I couldn’t get any further as my knowledgeable friend interrupted vehemently, “Do you know what the Gujral Doctrine entails? It means free and across the board concessions to our neighbors without any similar reciprocity. Can we afford to be so large-hearted and benevolent?”
Just my luck, out of the frying pan and directly into the fire. I knew that the points raised by him were debatable but for that one needs to have the armory of facts and figures which I sorely lacked.
I became a bit concerned about my inability to defend my views. I wondered how many fellow ‘literate-nerds’ were around who are out of sync with the current political realities. All of us who were mostly ignorant of the ‘nitty-gritty’ of the key issues confronting the nation and yet, it is we who decide the fate of the nation during the elections.
It was then that I realized that the common man’s instinct saved us. Didn’t Lincoln say, “Public opinion although often formed upon a wrong basis, yet generally has a strong and underlying sense of justice.”
So I played my final trump card, “But you agree that he is every inch of a Gentleman?”
My cynical friend would just not give up, “Yes, but is that an asset to him?”
Luckily I had the conviction now to reply fittingly for I again remembered Lincoln who said, “Scoff at the cynics and though all men are not true, still for every scoundrel there is a hero and for every selfish politician there is a dedicated leader.”
So I said, “Yes, it had better be so for millions of his fellow countrymen have set their hopes on him.”
The article appeared in ‘The Middle’ column on May 13, 1997 in Maharashtra Herald in Pune, India.
Am sure you have had fun watching two people argue with a genuine passion on an issue. Even if you happen to be an expert who knows that the issue is complex and with lots of shades of grey – you can see that the conviction and articulation often carries the day and wins the support. The facts may not be in favor of the winning position. And yet we carry on somehow without causing much damage … I wonder what all gets said in the GDs and how many people ‘buy’ the logic of it.
Over the years my interest and understanding of Indian politics has deepened and so I am bit surprised to note the above exchange reflects rather well the debate of the prevalent politics at that point of time.