Ever since the stranglehold of the Congress party was loosened over India, the Indian politics has had a succession of colourful leaders from parties which can’t even be put on a left-right spectrum or be identified with any other ideology, even nominally, though some of them sometimes make some ideological claims or wear some label. Purely for electoral purposes.
It would be foolish (and unwise) to dismiss these leaders and their parties as irrelevant to any serious political analysis, whether pedagogical or pragmatic or ideological or even historical. For these leaders, the leaders of the so called ‘regional’ parties (or other marginal parties) represent their constituencies in a more meaningful sense of the word than, say, Jawaharlal Nehru or any of his family ever represented the Indian population. They (members of the Nehru dynasty) got elected, of course, but why that happened (and keeps happening) is another long story.
Some of these leaders are more colourful than others. I have a kind of a personal Hall of Fame (or Infame, depending on your point of view) to which a small number of them belong. May be I will talk about them in more detail some time later, but I am going to mention one them now.
That one is Mamata Bannerjee. Maragaret Thatcher is still in the news as being the Iron Lady of Britain, but India had so many of them that we can only look with scorn at the US as it tries to elect its first woman President. It has already failed once.
And it is not just India which had women heads of state. Almost all South Asian countries did. Burma is on the track.
If it sounds great, let me spoil the party by pointing out that, of course, there is a catch here. Most of these women leaders were family members of a Great Man who was already in power, in one way or another. Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and now Burma: the story is the same all over. Daughters and wives most often, but sometimes sisters or even mothers (at a little lower level than the head of the state).
What almost makes me proud is the fact that we even have the case of an unwed lover. At least one that I know of. Perhaps there are others. That makes me smile. With joy, not with sarcasm. Because that is something in Indian society. It is not a cakewalk.
Sorry, sorry, sorry! I just remembered another one. That makes my smile broader, because that case is even more to my liking.
Both of them are in my Hall of Fame. Or Infame, if you like. I prefer Fame, because I don’t see how they are any worse than any of the others.
But there are a few rare ones among these women leaders who got where they were (or are) on their own. As much as any man does.
One of them is Mamata Banerjee.
She is a worthy candidate for the label Iron Lady (in a somewhat different sense), in case you like such labels.
Who is she? She is the nemesis of the Establishment Left in India. At least in the only big state of India where the Establishment Left has a major presence. So major that it ruled that state for more than 20 years. Why it was able to rule that long is another interesting story, but the rule came to an end and the party that dislodged the Communist Party of India (Marxist), commonly known as CPI(M), was not a party that had any presence anywhere in India. It was a newly formed party called the Trinamool Congress. Trinamool literally means the one having origins in the (roots of) leaves of grass. And for once, the literal meaning is not inaccurate, for the party is as much of a grassroots party as any party in India is, including all the Left parties.
And the reason her party is a grassroots party is because she herself is an untiring grassroots worker. She came up from below. She raised such a storm that the decaying castle of the CPI(M) ultimately collapsed. Neither of the two major parties of India (the Congress and the BJP) could take her place in Bengal after the fall of the (nominally) Leftist government.
I am not the right person to tell her story in detail, but I never cease to be amazed by the reaction to her from various sides.
You don’t like her? Don’t worry. I am not writing a eulogy.
Is she a saint? Is she a revolutionary? Is she a saviour? Of course not. There is hardly any space for such people in today’s India, if there ever was. She is as wily a politician as they come. Her rule today looks hardly any different from the rule of the Left Front. They seem to be twins, politically speaking. Except that she is not much of a Bhadra Lok person, a bourgeois. She can hold her own amongst what are (or should be) called the ‘people’. She is rough and crafty. She is an ambitious politician. There is much that can be said (justifiably) against her. But that doesn’t change the fact that she is a genuine grassroots leader, more than perhaps any other major leader in India today. You can see it as a positive point in her favour or as the living demonstration of the fact that just being a grassroots leader doesn’t make you the perfect leader, if anyone thought so.
And she is always in the news. The media loves covering her.
Oh, they don’t praise her. They don’t even like her. In fact, their feelings towards her sometimes border on hate. Neither does the Establishment (of which the media is a part). And it is not hard to understand why.
Once people (that is, individuals with roots in the leaves of grass) join the Establishment, they change, as any grassroots person knows. So has she, to an extent. But she has a strong personality. So the change in her is less noticeable. Whether that benefits the people she represents in any way or not is highly debatable.
One of the common elements among all the parties that have ruled West Bengal ever since Independence has been that they all had their goon squads. Proper goon squads. Goon squads on a large scale. Almost like storm troopers. And so, one of the common media stories in India (about West Bengal) is about the doings of these goon squads. They fight each other. Some times they join together and fight against the common enemy: the true revolutionary. They performed a great service to the nation in the 60s and 70s.
There is often violence. People get killed.
It happens even in the 21st century and the way that it happens, almost make me appreciate the value of open violence of the 20th century (and of the preceding centuries) as against the covert, ubiquitous, and perfectly normal and civilized-sanitized violence of the 21st century (there are exceptions, of course, such as these goon squads). There always was hope against this kind of old style violence, but there may be none against the kind that we have now and we will continue to have in the future, as far as I can see. We will only have more of this. The hopeless kind.
There have been some such incidents of the old style violence recently and the media has been covering them heavily. But now the media loves these fights even more among the goon squads of the Trinamool Party and of the CPI(M) — I am not an idiot, so I know that not all of them are mere goons — and it loves them because it (and the Establishment) wants both of them gone. Eradicated forever. One, the leftist party that was a kind of a grassroots party in the days gone by. The other, still a grassroots party, though with flexible ideology.
There is business to be done. There are deals to be made. West Bengal has to march in step with the India Shining, Inc. How can West Bengal be left behind even Bihar! Unthinkable!
Neither of the two fighting parties has a place in the Vision 2020, unless they die and are reborn in a 21st century avatar (perhaps that process has already started).
They are Relics Of The Past. They are the Hurdles In The Path To Development. The sooner they finish each other off, the better. If we can do anything to make if fast, we will.
And both of them are actively collaborating with the Establishment. These are days when people don’t worry about digging their own graves. They just look for the earliest Return On Investment. Even these two are not exceptions.
What about my grave? Well, I am already in it, sort of, as you probably know.
Another major news item recently has been an account given by Natwar Singh, the famous diplomat and later a politician of the Congress party. A real true-blue aristocrat by origin, which must have given him better access to the leaders around the world, as it did him to Margaret Thatcher. And not only him. As he tells in the story, which has amused the middle class Indians quite a lot, he had once introduced the (really) infamous Godman Chandraswamy to Maragaret Thatcher at the former’s request, which he points out, was highly unusual. You can read the story elsewhere, but the relevant part here is that the then young and relatively unknown Godman (except to those in high places) not only met the Iron Lady (also relatively unknown then), but so impressed her with his magical tricks that she agreed to meet him again and in the dress and the accessory that he asked her to. At that second meeting, she asked him whether she will become the Prime Minister and when. And he gave answers (according to Natwar Singh) which turned out to be very accurate. The story has an even more amusing ending, which I won’t spoil for you.
I, of course, don’t believe in such things (neither does Natwar Singh), but the story as told by him, if true in details, is quite eery, to say the least.
Now Chandraswamy belonged to another class of colourful characters in India who are often as powerful (sometime more) as the top level political leaders of the country. His devotees (or clients) included Prime Ministers of India, as was the case with many other Godmen, equally infamous. Or Famous, if you like. I don’t.
This is not quite a digression.
One of the recent news items about Mamata Banerjee was about her being taken ill in Delhi. One of the items says that “I am leaving, Delhi is not safe: Mamata Banerjee”. Another one says that “Mamata Banerjee admitted to Belle Vue”:
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee was admitted to Belle Vue Clinic with complaints of body pain, breathing trouble and palpitation after returning from Delhi on Wednesday.
The chief minister was driven straight to the clinic from the airport and was admitted at 4:30 pm. Clinic sources said she was being examined by a medical team led by Subrata Moitra.
Sources said her blood pressure level dipped to 90/65 against the normal range of 120/80.
So what’s this all about?
I know a thing or two about this.
If a charlatan like Chandraswamy can hog the limelight for making a prediction, well, I am in the prediction business too. I write programs that literally ‘predict’ things (on scientific basis too!). Things of much less significance, but nevertheless predict they do. And they are more likely to be useful for the ‘people’. And in a much more humble way.
So here goes. I am going to make a prediction too. But this one is not about Machine Translation. It is about bigger things.
The Establishment has tried to portray dissent as a kind of disease, with the help of a certain kind of ‘scientists’. It has succeeded in those attempts to a large extent. However, dissent still remains. As in the pesky presence of those like yours truly. And, in the eyes of the Establishment, equally pesky presence of the two fighting parties I mentioned earlier.
The Establishment in the 21st century has less patience than it did earlier. It is in a hurry. If it is not enough to portray dissent as a disease, what about literally making it one?
So my prediction is that, in the coming years, more and more of those who qualify for this disease will have symptoms somewhat (or exactly) like those mentioned above.
Sudden attacks of breathing problems. Palpitations. A high level of discomfort in the abdominal region. Inability to sleep due to the level of discomfort. Inability to work. Inability to dissent. And, who knows? probably even worse.
This won’t be the abstract and profound nausea of ‘nothingness’ of the dissenter of the 20th century. It will be very concrete and mundane.
For some, it might become a routine. The essence of their material existence.
All very sanitized. Any blame for unsanitoriness, if any, would lie on the patient.
Before you launch an attack on me for this gloomy prediction, let me say that I have no super powers. I just got ‘lucky’ in being able to make this prediction. And no one could hope more for this to be proved wrong.
But I am almost certain it will be proved right. Even if the Establishment has to cut a part of its Left Arm.
Unless you can do something about it.
Can you, now?