Sunday, March 4, 2012

The cherished myth of the Noble Dictator

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

Ever since Barack Obama was elected President in 2008, almost every subsequent election in other parts of the world has had a candidate promising ‘change.’ Like in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, LK Advani tried to be that candidate. Because nothing says change like an octogenarian politician who has spent the last four decades as a member of parliament and has been a prominent member of three governments.

Then it was Nick Clegg, who after a good performance at a debate was hailed as the UK’s version of Obama. Even though Clegg has the wit of a bottle of home-made disinfectant and the charm of a stale box of Pringles. Nobody in England even wants to have a drink with him as constantly hearing about how mass-marketed alcohol beverages are causing malnutrition in Somalia is a real bugger. And all a bloke wants to do after a hard day's work is sit in a pub, make some jokes about how the fat chick flirting with the bartender looks like Wayne Rooney and watch some bleeding rugger on the telly, so shut your pie hole and pass the crisps, Nick. Even insane asylum escapee and Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinajad wasn’t impervious to borrowing cheap marketing slogans from the leader of the great Satan. Thanks a lot for ruining all elections, Barry. 

As in everything else it does the Indian media’s Obama obsession borders on the creepy. What they don’t realize is that if Obama was born in India (maybe he is? All irrefutable evidence may point to his being born in Hawaii, but who am I going to believe? My lying eyes or a racist & kooky con artist?) he’d get an engineering degree from an IIT, go abroad to work for an MNC and come back to India ten years later and write a terrible book about the whole experience. And even after Obama has jumped the shark, the media continues to look for a person to fit into their pre-existing narrative. Is it Mayawati? No, she’s turned into a megalomaniac dictator whose goal is to put a statue of herself in every house in the country. Is it Anna Hazare? No, he was already a megalomaniac dictator before most of the popular journalists could misinterpret their first fact. Is it the chief minister of a prosperous state who shall remain unnamed? Never mind. I don’t want letters from those people.

The latest messiah who was unable to deliver us from all evil was Mamta Banerjee. Last year, her ‘poriborton’ campaign was all over the news. She was going to bring change to her home state after three decades of misrule! She was going to turn Calcutta into London! She was going to use her powers to change the axis of the earth and force it to revolve around West Bengal! However, what came as a surprise to no one but the hard working men and women who ask silly questions on television, Ms. Banerjee turned out to be a megalomaniac dictator. Even a horse wearing blinkers could have diagnosed her malignant dictatorship. All the symptoms pointed in that direction: Erratic behaviour. Disregard for public opinion. Paranoia. Not allowing any other leader in the party to develop a following large enough to challenge her authority. Denying reality. Blaming all the problems the people are suffering from on the previous regime or a more powerful outside entity. Her relatives treating the state like their own personal fiefdom. And now, she wants to paint the capital city in her favourite colour! That usually happens when politicians get that funny feeling in their stomach and decide that they are in this for the long haul. Though most dictators come from very diverse backgrounds, they all end up as graduates of the dictator school of hard knocks.

Of course, in India, we love leaders who pretend to be strong and decisive. Nothing gives our emasculated populace a bigger boner than a leader who doesn’t care for other people’s opinions. Consultations are for weak people! Real men take decisions impacting a large number of people based on what they feel in their gut! A large swathe of the country continues to want a benevolent dictator. When history has taught us that those two things do not go together. Even with all the current nominal checks and balances in place, most governments in this country commit highway robbery in broad daylight. Yet, somehow, people believe that a person with unchecked powers will be inclined to combat corruption.

So what if Indira Gandhi placed her sycophants in every position of consequence and sowed the seeds for the systematic rot we see now and every action of hers was determined by the need for self-preservation, but hey, at least the trains were on time.

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