(A shorter version of this appeared in the Sunday Guardian)
Breakout the bubbly, toss the confetti and release some white doves. The Republic of India is about to elect a new President!
Not that most of the country gives a crap about the office of the President. Nobody besides news junkies and ‘general knowledge enthusiasts’ is paying any attention to this contest. The thing is, the President doesn’t really have any real power. He or she is not even the premier freeloader in our
long list of freeloaders system of governance. We don’t really want to learn the names of people who we can’t blame for the malaise that has taken over our lives. The Prime Minister, yes. The buck stops with him! He is supposed to be the real leader of the government. The first among equals. So we can easily blame him. But the President? One of the main reasons that position exists is because our founders wanted to show a big, democracy-shaped middle finger to the British Empire. Look at you England, with your fake monarch wearing stolen jewellery. Real democracies have semi-elected titular heads-of-state! Suck on that, subservient realms of the commonwealth.
Most Presidents in our country have occupied that august office after a hard fought victory on ‘India’s Got Sycophants.’ The rules of this contest are simple: if you’re a good sycophant with at least a couple of independent opinions, you get to be a Rajya Sabha MP. If you’re a really good sycophant – with no independent thought process whatsoever and a disturbingly eager need to please – you get to become Governor of a state. And the most sycophantic of them all – a person who not only is incapable of having a pre-approved brain fart but doesn’t even go to the bathroom without prior permission – advances to the final round and gets to be President.
This year they must have raided an old people’s home for contenders to the Presidency. People were coming out of the woodwork to declare their candidacy. Though tragic Satyajit Ray movie character Pranab Mukherjee was the favourite, for a minute there it looked like his ambition would be thwarted again. Even though he had been campaigning for months, the sphinx of 10 Janpath remained unmoved. She only belatedly agreed to his candidacy when Mamta Banerjee showed once again that she is three colours short of a full palette. While PA Sangma continued to lose even the last shreds of his dignity, Abdul Kalam allowed himself to be used as a political football again. Now that we’re done with the five-yearly fake national wankfest over him, the next time he will be all over the news is when someone frisks him at an airport. Hell, even the angriest man on Indian television, Ram Jethmalani, threatened to nimbly sprint for President. Jethmalani, of course, is the standard bearer for lost causes. He has fought and lost more contests than an IPL team led by Sourav Ganguly. In fact, he even lost the online contest for ‘the drunkest Indian’ thanks to some last minute strategic voting by confused Narendra Modi fans.
Since our press corps are always gunning for a crisis – these are the same people who literally spend days arguing over hypothetical events which most of the time never even happen – so if they get a whiff of even a remote possibility of a real political dogfight, they’re going to suck that puppy dry. They turned this boring contest into a staged WWE spectacle. Pranab Mukherjee was transformed into Hulk Hogan: all hype and no substance. A man respected and lauded for his achievements, even though he has spent his whole career sucking up to his boss and trying to stop others from getting ahead. Abdul Kalam was Ric Flair: a man who has achieved a lot in his life but refuses to retire gracefully and keeps showing up to the arena even though no one wants him anymore. PA Sangma was the Brooklyn Brawler: a man who only exists to lose the match and make the other guy look stronger than he actually is.
Even the left parties made a cameo appearance in this extravaganza. The left parties are the Ultimate Warrior of Indian politics: they could have almost been in the main event, but thanks to their own warped sense of reality, they are so far away from the mainstream that no one even remembers who they are.
The winner of this Presidential summer slam was Pranab Mukherjee. Let this be a lesson to all the children – if you’re a sycophant to enough members of the Gandhi clan, if you spend your whole life thwarting your ambition and then use all your surrogates in the media to spend months promoting your candidacy – then you too can ascend to the highest office in the land!
In all this hullaballoo, we might miss giving the current occupant a proper send-off. Although in a gallery full of individuals even history will not bother to remember, Pratibha Patil stands out as ordinary, I, for one will miss President God Whisperer. The hilarious thing about making an alleged conwoman President is the blatantly hilarious highway robbery she continues to (allegedly!) commit. I’d be more outraged at the stadium sized house she planned to build, or her outrageously inappropriate foreign jaunts in which she took along everyone who even shared a small atomic fraction of her DNA, but living in this country if there is one thing I have learned, it’s that if you can’t arrest them and put them in jail, at least make terribly unfunny jokes about them.
Every time the Presidential elections roll around, one is reminded of what a strange fellow once said, never have so many fought for something of so little value. Why does anyone want to be President anyway? You have no real duties. People come to you with complaints you have no powers of addressing. The government will saddle you with clemency applications which are a political time bomb. However, you can pretty much do whatever you want while somebody else pays for it. You get to tour the world like a person of actual importance. You get to live in one of the largest palaces in the world. You get to host people who actually are capable of re-making the world. You can get every useless member of your family a job for life. And you get a salary while you do all this.
Wait; is it too late to throw my hat in for consideration?