Going by the books
With elections around the corner, our in-house book reviewer Indrajit Hazra puts the party manifestos under the critic’s scanner...books Updated: Apr 05, 2009 01:44 IST
Writers have books; political parties have manifestos. But while books are widely reviewed, no one cares much about manifestos. But these noble tracts, too, have their lines of Tagore-like idealism, paragraphs of gibberish that make a Lewis Carroll sit up, passages dipped with Orwellian satire that won’t be evident even to its writers. So with elections round the corner, what better time to put these sacred texts under the scanner of our in-house (and pretentious) book reviewer. Not only will he dissect the things these pamphlets say, but also how they are said and what are left unsaid. None of the four manifestos below will be in bookstores near you.
Also, it’s doubtful whether any of them will be worthy of eternal discussion as the Marx’n’Engels potboiler The Communist Manifesto is. But then, these gaseous political adverts can do with a literary critic’s eye. And who knows, some of us may even curl up with them in bed.
A terrific start — “A quirk of fate brought the Congress to power at the Centre in the summer of 2004” — blunted by a plodding history lesson from Manifesto Committee Chairman Murli Manohar Joshi. The build-up to the point where the Aryan hero is unveiled is dramatic: “India today faces a severe crisis of leadership. The nation needs a determined and decisive leader who has the capacity, commitment and conviction (nice alliteration there) to take command of the situation and lead from the front…The polity needs a leader who values consensus over conflict, consultation over confrontation (that neat alliteration again!)…That leader is Shri L.K. Advani.” The reader can actually hear the conch-shell blast.
The sub-heading for ‘National Security’ is ‘Fear Shall No Longer Stalk This Land’; that of ‘Information Technology’ is ‘India@e-Superpower’ . The chapter on ‘Preserving our cultural heritage’ takes magic realism head-on with ‘Ram Setu’, ‘Ram Temple’, ‘Ganga’ and ‘Cow and its Progeny’. The chutnification of past and present works — especially on soft palates.
Going by the number of times the CPI(M) has used the word ‘protect’ or ‘protection’ — 34 times — this saga of apocalypse makes grim reading. So is the language like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich or even Munshi Premchand’s Godaan? Alas no. It reads more like the third volume of Das Kapital (colourfully named The Process of Captialist Production) written by Engels. Part I of this communist manifesto is basically a long essay on the world according to the comrades and how rotten the last five years have been. There are straight, no-nonsense lines: “Earlier, in 1993, faced with a no-confidence motion, the Narasimha Rao government had bribed opposition members of Parliament.” But very few. Part II picks up the pace, but only because the sections are smaller and are in point form. How does it end? “Prohibition of corporate funding to political parties.” Thunderous, no?
The brochure is snazzy — with the happy couple of Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi shown laughing on the cover. But the real treat is the Zen-like wisdom peppered throughout the booklet. “The Indian National Congress says what it means and means what it says,” opens a section titled, ‘The Way Forward’. Pleased as punch with that smart word symmetry, we get the next line: “The Indian National Congress promises what it can do and will do what it promises.” The attempt to understand why the party has to even explain to the people (read: media) why it's the best choice is touching. The use of the term “presumptuous posturing” to describe the BJP's belief to be the Congress’ national rival is straight out of Jane Austen. Achievements are trotted out without getting maudlin, although the para starts, “It has restored secular and Constitutional values in governance…” Makes the heart stop with emotion.
Here’s a political noir with the author as the salwar-clad heroine. It’s “Kumari Mayawati, National President, Bahujan Samaj Party” speaking directly to the reader. From the very first line, we know that this isn’t your regular manifesto: “Brothers and Sisters…” In fact, as the author points out, it isn’t even a manifesto. “...[the BSP] is the only party in the country, which believes in ‘deeds and not in words’. That is why our party... does not release an election ‘Manifesto’ containing ‘alluring promises’ in any election rather BSP only makes an ‘APPEAL’ to people for votes…” Raymond Chandler, top that.
The fast-paced narrative keeps the ‘Bahujan Samaj’ (the ‘majority society’) in the centre of things. But a new character, ‘Sarv Samaj’ (‘everyone in society’) makes a mark. And yes, the author may have just discovered the unlimited power of the quotation mark.