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End of the Great Suck-Up Party?

King Manmohan in his latest stint, thankfully, hasn’t been a Dasarath, making and keeping promises of old faithfuls. Thanks to the Lok Sabha numbers, he has been able to have his own swayamvara with a few tricky marital alliances that shouldn’t come in the way of his spreading the love all around. Far trickier has been his show of love within the Congress tent. Indrajit Hazra comments.

columns Updated: May 30, 2009 23:50 IST
Indrajit Hazra

One of the major downsides of polygamy, as anyone familiar with the Ramayana (or Tamil Nadu politics) will know, is that regardless of being a good, capable and loving man, it’s well nigh impossible to keep all the wives equally happy. This is more the case when you’re the Master of the House with a problem of plenty than when you’re the dude of the hovel lording over one room in the jhopri. As the immortal lines of Arjun Singh (sung to the tune of ‘Aaja pyare paas humare, kahen ghabraye, kahen ghabraye?) go: “Whoever fights over crumbs? Everyone squabbles over fridgefuls of food.”

King Dasarath must have expended incredible amounts of energy — that could have been otherwise used to feed the dynamic, burgeoning economy of Ayodhya — just to keep his three wives from not sulking into regular tizzies at the thought of ‘any of the other wives’ getting special treatment. But the stability of his kingdom depended on keeping all wives on an even happy keel.

Even a nifty and charming player like King Dasarath, however, couldn’t stop the Amar Singh-like Manthara from poisoning the mind of Queen Kaikeyi. In the process, two of his boys and one daughter-in-law (why was Lakshman’s wife, Sita’s sister, Urmila, left behind?) were banished to the sub-district-level politics of the forest. Now, Kaikeyi wasn’t a ‘new, young’ wife. After Ram’s mum Kausalya, she was the eldest queen, considered by many as Dasarath’s favourite (which could have led to intra-queen complications of its own).

The mistake, if one can call it a ‘mistake’, that Dasarath made was to promise Kaikeyi anything she wanted after she had driven his chariot out of a sticky battlefield situation and nursed the injured king back to health. Years later, as the mother of Prince Bharat, and after a heavy consultancy feedback from her (ex-McKinsey?) maid Manthara, Kaikeyi demanded her wish be complied: no, not that she gets the Chemicals and Fertilisers portfolio, but that Kausalya’s kid and Dasarath’s favourite son and very likely successor Ram, goes on a very long Tolkien-meets-Kerouac road trip.

The rest, as they say, is Dandakaranya Days and the period of lost opportunities for the kingdom of Ayodhya. Until, some 14 years later, when Ram returns — by which time, as some pseudo-Hindutva economists believe, China had already zipped ahead in the global stakes.

King Manmohan in his latest stint, thankfully, hasn’t been a Dasarath, making and keeping promises of old faithfuls. Thanks to the Lok Sabha numbers, he has been able to have his own swayamvara with a few tricky marital alliances that shouldn’t come in the way of his spreading the love all around. Far trickier has been his show of love within the Congress tent. It’s one thing to be left out when there are, say, 35 ministers being appointed. It can be degrading for ‘loyalists’ to be left out of a jumbo 79-er.

For me, this decision to leave out incompetent loyalists is, by itself, worth the extra white cars with flashing red lights we’ll get to see whizzing up and down the roads. For what we witnessed in the exclusion of H R Bhardwaj and Co. last week could jolly well be the birth of what Slate editor-in-chief Jacob Weisberg, in the context of Barack Obama, calls a “healthy disdain for the overrated virtue of political loyalty” in the Grand Old Suck-Up Party, the Congress.

Singh’n’Sonia must have spent a while figuring out how to lessen the blow for the lot who think that one servile bow, two derriere-licking sound bites, and slapping happy posters on Rahulji’s birthday are enough for them to be on board.

I can’t see the likes of Jyotiraditya Scindia and Sachin Pilot rushing in to pranam Soniaji every time with a reverence that would make dear old Sitaram Kesri smile from beyond the CWC. (I can’t see Minority Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, however, rid himself of this tic yet.)

Even Ram had to cut a deal with King Sugreev by bumping off Baali. So I can sympathise with the DMK ministers being foisted on Team Manmohan. But performance, promise and politics may finally be the factors for ministership in a Congress-led government, not servile loyalty.

Do remember that Hanuman, despite tearing his heart out to show his super-love for Ram and Sita, wasn’t made a minister in Ram’s Ayodhya. He was just a very, very useful monkey.