The most significant aspect of the recent elections in Punjab and Delhi pertains to the manner in which an opportunity for moral renaissance of our social and political system was first created and then killed by its own creators. The painful part is that it has been a case of the progenitor killing the progeny.
The script is not new to our country. In Punjab, we have seen it enacted thrice in 15 years. Each time, the script(ure) has produced a fake messiah and the landscape remains a wasteland.
The first few years in the aftermath of India’s Independence were marked by a virgin glow of adolescent idealism, with strong moral emphasis in everything concerning public life. Pt Jawahar Lal Nehru led the first wave of idealism but the wave was snuffed out by his own actions, highlighted by his excessive love for controversial heroes such as Krishna Menon. Lal Bahadur Shastri died too soon, and his Jai Jawan Jai Kisan slogan was soon replaced by Indira Gandhi’s Garibi Hatao. India’s imagination was fired up again. In between, the good comrades and their illegitimate extremity – Naxalism – had sought to take the country towards revolutionary overhaul. But nothing extremely radical ever sits well with the Indian temperament. Naxalism died of excessive communism – and the converse was also true.
The country’s romance with idealism was not over. In 1973-74, good Gandhian Jay Prakash Naryanan pushed corruption to the top margins of the national agenda and the incredulous eyes of the Western media saw Indira Gandhi’s brand of corrupt dictatorship swept aside by an ethical juggernaut. The country had its first non-Congress government at the Centre. More important than the political change was the dream that it represented. The anti-VIP culture slogans were first heard in the script of the ’70s. But the experiment proved too much of a good thing in hands not good enough. The Janata Party, a rag-tag conglomeration of stray opposition outfits and a few Congress rebels, imploded and squandered away the opportunity that they had themselves created post Emergency. The progenitor killed the progeny – and we were back with Indira Gandhi again.
The script was re-enacted, each time in different idiom by Rajiv Gandhi, VP Singh and AB Vajpayee and, is being enacted to some extent by Narendra Modi now. But the Indian political paradox continues. Even as the system sits on the barest margins of moral and political decomposition, a beautiful, dream-like vision walks in its shadow, side by side. An occasional hero emerges to pull this dream from the shadows and give it a reality, and people respond to the new romance – till they find that the messiah has run away to either join the establishment or resemble it.
PUNJAB’S LOST CHANCES
In Punjab, the three opportunities for a historic rejuvenation came in 2002-03, 2010-11 and 2015-16. The protagonists on the three occasions are still around and relevant. Ironically, all three have survived by killing the dream they gave birth to. All three deserve attention.
Captain Amarinder Singh (2002-03) virtually transformed himself from a successful politician to a crusader against corruption. The Ravi Sidhu episode took Amarinder’s stock through the roof and the CM was the unrivalled knight-at-arms. By 2004, the script had gone ugly and not only the people around him but the chief minister himself was falling in thick stink from where he was to find it hard to extricate himself. I remember writing then: “Amarinder has created a great opportunity for himself and for the state he heads. That opportunity is asking him to rise to it. But I am doubtful if he would respond to it.” He didn’t. Instead, the opportunity was killed by its progenitor, again.
Manpreet Badal re-shot the screenplay in 2010-11. This was the nearest that Punjab had ever come to an ethical renaissance. Manpreet too proved to be no exception to the national rule. His experiment collapsed around his own actions, and the progeny was killed again by the hands that created it.
It took Punjab five more years to be on the edge of a similar moral romance. For two years, Punjab sang to the moral reverberations of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal but there were enough indications in the AAP script to suggest that the “revolutionary” messiah had no ambitions to change the vehicle that carried the moral sloth: instead, he wanted the vehicle for himself. The progenitor killed the progeny yet again.
The lesson that emerges from this pattern is simple. Those who cry that Punjab has squandered away an opportunity for changing the system are wrong. Do not blame the people, they created a dream opportunity but the messiahs whom they asked to lead them to convert that dream into a reality turned out to be either fake or simply not good enough.
And the real lesson here is: To change a system, you do not need a messiah but a collective new mindset. Those who believe that red beacons atop car roofs can change mindsets beneath them are either naïve or deliberately diverting attention from the core issues. In fact, these tokenisms are being used to promote new messiahs.
Fight to address the disease, not just the symptoms.
(The writer is media adviser to former Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal)