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Sunday, Sep 22, 2019

Of izzat and aaram

It was only a matter of using our genius for jugaad to turn a presidential nomination catfight into something a bit loftier called politics, Indrajit Hazra writes.

columns Updated: Jun 16, 2012 22:48 IST
Indrajit Hazra
Indrajit Hazra
Hindustan Times

For those of you who went out of town on a dirty pre-weekend on Wednesday morning and returned on Friday afternoon - assuming that this entailed a 'Do not disturb' tag hanging outside your door for two whole days and you had no time for any television - not much happened in the country while you were away. On Friday, you would have got the news that Pranab Mukherjee had - finally! - been nominated as the UPA's presidential candidate, and that the BJP was less perturbed than it was a few days before when its leadership was fearing that the Congress would make a surprise nomination of the non-political Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

For the rest of us though, any kind of boredom was delightfully busted in the high-octave drama that came with the 'selection' of the prime candidate for this prestigious national beauty contest. There's so much fun watching a nose being touched in the most roundabout, dramatic way.

The media, which feeds off this kind of thing in a manner very similar to the protagonists of this summer's critter-horror movie Piranha 3DD - a must-watch for me, especially after this paper's film reviewer described it as "one of the most obnoxious films in recent memory" - billed the Sonia Gandhi-Mamata Banerjee stand-off over Pranab Mukherjee as the most politically significant event in town since Sourav Ganguly was dropped from the Kolkata Knight Riders squad under the presidency of Pratibha Patil.

Izzat (honour) and aaram (comfort) are usually inter-dependent and interchangeable in Indian society and politics. So, Mamata's and Sonia's tussle over Pranab was obviously not over the Trinamool leader shooting down the best candidate for the post of president (a subjective choice) but over overruling any possible Congress nominee (an objective choice). Whether Mamata's mutinous display forced Sonia's hand to name Pranab as the candidate, who till then was seen as a UPA trial balloon, is as pertinent to the whole affair as whether Purno Sangma did the right thing running from one leader to another pleading with them to vote for him as president like a credit card salesman during a credit crunch.

But by cocking a snook at Pranab's nomination, Mamata was challenging the Congress leader's honour and seeking to make her position uncomfortable in an already uncomfortable political landscape for the UPA. But Mulayam Singh Yadav, courtesy his prowess with the classical back-flip wrestling move, swivelled all the high-stake dishonour chips around and plonked it on 'Pranab-da's sister', Mamata.

Now if political pundits don't love this kind of sweaty stuff, what can they love? So the actual notion of getting a 'good president' (which means different things to different people) becomes a sideshow to the main spectacle being played out in the mud pit. A generation of fruit flies will be talking about this battle between a woman who was once reluctant to lead the Congress and another woman who broke away from the Congress over a man who was, for a while, exiled from the Congress.

But as we have been reminded by history-minded commentators, waging a political battle using the presidential elections is nothing new. Indira Gandhi, that poster-girl of realpolitik and Democracy 2.0, who turned a national party into a private holding company, used it to nix the Asimov-sounding Syndicate way back in 1969 - the same year when a 33-year-old Pranab Mukherjee became a Congress Rajya Sabha member for the first time.

The water of our polity seeks its own level. While pundits continue to inject gravitas into the job of the president - primarily to inject gravitas into their own analyses of the circus spectacle by simply slapping the sticker of 'politics' on it - the fact is that it doesn't matter who becomes president. All that matters is whose racehorse he is.

'Jugaad' has been a favourite word for many of us for a while now. Celebrating low-cost improvisations because of a lack of resources, or to cut cost just for the heck of it, has become a national pastime. Using a washing machine to make lassi in large volumes, or placing non-functional security cameras (knowing that the belief that they could be working is enough to scare criminals from committing crimes in public places) comes from the same mindset that allows the tapping of overhead electric lines to get free electricity, or spurs students to cheat in exams from chits stuffed in their pockets.

The presidential elections have also fallen under the ambit of our innate talent to make hay of whatever sunshine we have. It was only a matter of using our genius for jugaad to turn a presidential nomination catfight into something a bit loftier called politics.

First Published: Jun 16, 2012 22:37 IST