Sunday, February 2, 2014

Indian Democracy, Call Your Office

(Presented by LexCorp)

As we began the week, a staggering scene unfolded on our television screens. The whole world watched in shock and awe as a hero crumbled right in front of its eyes. A messiah of millions revealed his true self. All the people who had invested their hopes and dreams in his success were now heartbroken and inconsolable. Overwhelmed with despair, they had nowhere to turn to. They couldn’t even commiserate  with each other because they knew that anything they said would sound quite hollow. They promised themselves never to worship another human being again. But enough about Justin Beiber’s imminent fall into meth addiction!

Last weekend, when it was announced that India’s #1 man-child was going to be interviewed by India’s #1 blowhard, people were excited! (By people I mean political junkies on twitter and by excited I mean cringing in anticipation.) Everyone was looking forward to interpreting whatever Rahul Gandhi said using the lens of their pre-conceived notions.

The interview began by both the participants talking about the interview. You could tell this was Rahul Gandhi’s first interview for anything because a few minutes later he was asking Arnab a question and then chastising him for not answering it, perhaps because he wasn’t aware that a person being interviewed isn’t supposed to be the one asking questions. At some point he started referring himself in the third person, thus reminding viewers of every middle manager in corporate India. He sounded like the sort of employee that old family owned companies in India don’t fire because of some sense of misplaced loyalty. The kind who ‘trained’ the current CEO when he was young but is still in the same position because despite having been in the business for forty years, he still knows nothing about it. And when he retires, all he will have to show for his decades of ‘service’ would be a yellowing certificate signed by the current CEO’s grandfather and a Quartz watch he got at his depressing retirement party.

A long, long time ago, during the final semester of my college, I had to give a presentation. I was actually looking forward to this one because for the first time, I had made it myself and not gotten some lowly junior to make it for me. I had barely started to show the teacher the first slide that she started asking me questions I had not prepared for. When my flailing got really embarrassing, she curtly told me that I was done and dismissed me. But I wanted to salvage whatever remaining prestige that I had and insisted that she see the rest of my presentation. I couldn’t answer any of her questions again and my friend, seeing that I would go on signalled to me to end the torturous session and get off the damn stage or he would punch me in the face. I still cringe when I think about this incident! Unfortunately, Rahul’s interview for me was a vivid reminder of this very moment. He had prepared so hard! But no one askedhim the questions he wanted to answer. And he kept rambling on long after he needed to. Maybe surrounding yourself with yes-men who never let you face even a smidgen of contrary opinion let alone allowing a friend to threaten you with bodily harm for fucking up is not the best idea? It was like Gotham city sending Robin’s intern to fight their biggest villain while Batman stayed back in the batlair, watching the destruction of his beloved home on teevee.

After the interview was over, the Congress trolls on twitter were doing extreme verbal gymnastics and calling it an insightful interview showcasing the humility of their lord and master while the BJP trolls were doing twitter’s version of dancing in the streets. The only good thing most sane people could bring themselves to say about the interview was that at least Rahul Gandhi has given more interviews than Narendra Modi. Even though he answered questions that had a simple yes and no answer with an incoherent word salad of meaningless phrases, at least he sat through them. Maybe we should get our Prime Ministerial candidates to do the limbo because the bar seems to be set too low.

One would have thought that the interview would yield a discussion around the fact that one of our supposed Prime Ministerial candidates and the vice-president of one of the country’s largest political parties was giving his first major interview on the eve of his third parliamentary election. That he was only deeming it necessary to ‘speak out’ to the general public now that his party is facing an electoral rout and his minions thought that putting him ‘out there’ might rejuvenate their campaign. That he found it prudent to give his first interview to the person who just last week had an argument with one of his guests, a member of parliament no less, the highlight of which was both of them calling the other “a child,” should give the journalistic fraternity some sort of pause. That the other candidate hasn’t even deemed it necessary to give in to even the pretence of facing questions from someone who might be a little hostile to his agenda should be worrying to all of us. That these are the sort of people populating the pillars of our democracy should be making us uneasy with questions of our own.

Or maybe we could just follow Justin Beiber’s lead and descend into an alternate reality too.