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Of storytellers and young politicians

June 30, 2012

A commonality between a career in movies and a career in politics in the Indian subcontinent is the fact that scions of the stars of yesteryear get a break in the respective arena a lot easily as compared to any new comer. However, for the general public there is a downside to this phenomenon prevailing in politics.

Nepotism leading to mediocrity in cinema is not very disturbing unless one happens to be Francis Ford Cupola, whereas mediocrity in politics is alarming because politics pervades everything from our foreign policy to food security. This nepotism is indeed a disguised form of monarchy, a ‘democratic monarchy’ that is, how ironic! I do not want to unreasonably eulogise our eastern neighbours but somehow they manage to do the same thing that we do but with much more maturity and by being a lot less pompous, be it something as fanciful as movies or as real as land reforms, devolution or even ‘democratic monarchy’.

Recently our Bilawal, the Bhutto of Zardari clan was in US with his dad and demanded an apology from Obama on the Salala killings. To be honest and harsh, if Obama has to lend his ear to a youngster then it would perhaps be Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook than Mr. Bhutto because what Zuckerberg has achieved is a result of his own talents. I do not doubt the young Bhutto’s talent but telling stories about how an elite archer from his family hit the bull’s eye does not make him an elite archer but only a storyteller. The charismatic Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto drew first blood in the 1970s with his sword (the election symbol of PPP was the sword at that time) and later it was his daughter, Benazir Bhutto who hit the bull’s eye with an arrow from her bow despite blatant victimisation by the Zia regime. Sadly Bilawal Bhutto, the Chairperson of arguably the largest political party of Pakistan has so far come up with nothing more than ‘Musharraf killed my mother’ and ‘Democracy is the best revenge’ rant.

Now, let us take a look at how the leadership of our eastern neighbor, India has done. When then Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in 1991, his son Rahul was 21, a little older than what Bilawal was at the time of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination still he was not made the chairman of Congress, he did not even consider the option and continued his higher education unfettered. It was not until 2004 that Rahul Gandhi announced his entry into politics. Later in general elections the same year, he won the Lok Sabha seat from Amethi, his father’s former constituency. Amazingly, it was not until 2006 that Rahul Gandhi who is the current general secretary of Congress held any office in Indian National Congress.

In the 2009 General elections, Congress did very well in politically important Utter Pradesh (UP) and Rahul Gandhi’s extensive and tireless campaigning was credited for this revival. Still Rahul did not assume the office of Prime Minister of India despite suggestion from within the party, instead Manmohan Singh got the final nod. Rahul reiterated at this point that he wanted to consolidate Congress, shun divisive politics in India, mobilise youth and was needed more on that front. Though Congress did not do well in the 2012 Assembly elections, the decline in popularity being attributed to the economic policies of the central government, still Rahul did his part in campaigning in Uttar Pradesh, he apparently attended more than 200 rallies, slept in villagers' huts and even grew a beard to counterbalance the ultra sophisticated image his debonair looks give and to look like more of a man of the people. Rahul Gandhi despite having the opportunity of sitting on his heels and enjoying the highest office in the largest democracy of the world, has made it a point to connect with the people of India; he has been there and seen it all.

He has tasted success and suffered setbacks. This is how statesmen are made. He is not the only example of somebody in the younger generation of Indian politics who has come of age, Akhilash Yadev, the man behind the success of Samajwadi Party (SP) in the Utter Pradesh state assembly elections this year is another example. Akhilash Yadev is the son of Mulayam Singh Yadev, President of the Samajwadi Party and won his seat in UP state assembly elections for the first time in 2000 and after the state assembly elections of 2012, has now become the youngest Chief Minister of Utter Pradesh at the age of 38. Akhilesh instead of towing the old line re-invented his father’s party by conducting cycle rallies, using modern technology and opening up the party, hitherto accused of harbouring goondas (hooligans), to new ideas, means and ideology. The result was SP winning 224 seats in the UP assembly elections of 2012 as opposed to a mere 97 in 2007.

On the contrary, our political parties have young Bhuttos, Sharifs, Khosas, Chaudhrys and Khars presenting themselves as kings in waiting rather than servants of the people. They are mere storytellers, too afraid to be part of the story; and history has no place for storytellers. It mentions kings and even pawns if they are brave enough, but not the storytellers.

It is said only shrubs grow under oak trees, however, if one desires the grandeur of an oak then it would be sage to leave its shadow. The question is do our young politicians have the guts? Divulging the answer would be stating the obvious.


The writer is a civil servant. He blogs here and can be reached at syedsaadatwrites@gmail.com


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