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The waves

As the Wind Blows

Location: Chennai, Tamilnadu, India

26 April 2004

Once a Leader, Always a Leader

What makes an “Indian” has always been an interesting debate. Outlook carried a whole issue focusing on this question. I was drawn to this subject again today in Hindu Magazine. The lead story gives excerpts from a just released book – “ Being Indian.” By Pawan K. Varma.

I agree with him to a certain extent that one can never generalize the “Indianness”; agree also, that the contradictions in fact are the threads that runs undercurrent, among Indians. And I enjoyed his observations on Indian fixation for politics and elections. Read this:

“ Given the Indian fascination with power, elections fulfilled a deep psychological need to participate in power game, to see who was in and who would be out. Many foreigners are surprised by the intense involvement of the ordinary Indian in politics, making India ‘the world’s largest producer of politicians, elections and democratic political parties. It produces more in this regard than the rest of the world combined. People discuss politics in buses and trains and dhabas, and in their homes, and are deeply involved in the equations of power: who wields it, who will wield it, who once wielded it, who may wield it, and who can never wield it. The play of politics, with its betrayal and intrigue and calculation and conspiracy, holds the common persons in thrall…..”

But what interested me most was his observation that Indians love to idolize other human beings. This is a unique characteristic which has been discussed by many sociologists and other social researchers. When we like certain qualities in a fellow human being we begin to idolize that person and soon he/she is put on a pedestal and deity-fied. Leaders, for us are super human beings.

So much so, once a leader, always a leader. You don’t let him/her live a normal life thenceforth. Once “dethroned”, Clinton could go back to academia or whatever pleases him to do in a post retirement life. For all his charisma, and for all the good things he did for Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew could have remained the “Idol” or “Super Human being” for ever. But when he chose to step down, he began to lead a normal retired and dignified life.

But here in India, retirement for a leader? Forget it. Once a leader – always a leader. You might have undergone knee operations twice, had an open-heart surgery or perhaps may have difficulty even in remembering your colleagues’ names. Never mind. You are our leader. When you are lifted up and put on a pedestal, you remain there only - till the end of your life. You can’t step down even if you wish to. ( Our “leaders” also want to remain that way is another issue altogether – worth writing another piece.) Only Lord “Yaman” is allowed to “retire” the “leader” - forever from life.

Therefore, the question of succession always looms large over the “devotees”. After all, the Guru - Sishya linage has to continue ! Thus, the leaders – a la Kings of erstwhile dynasties, have to identify their successors well in advance. Offsprings are the "natural" choice. In the absence of it - or till the offsprings comes of age, someone from the family has to be identified or made to occupy the throne temporarily as if to keep the seat warm. So that the under study will have enough time to learn the art of “leading”, before taking over the baton.

There is no question of aging gracefully in “Indian Leaders’ lives”.

08 April 2004

Different strokes

There are times when I feel my output of writing is slowing down. I attribute it partly to a kind of ennui setting in – I don’t know if it happens to all pen / keyboard pushers at one point or the other. Ploughing words for years at a stretch, suddenly you feel at a loss of words / ideas. Sometimes you feel you have been talking for too long and want to have some peaceful moments. But then, peace is a quicksilver commodity that keeps eluding you – the moment you think you have got it, you find it slipping by somewhere right under your nose.

So even in those moments when I imagine I’m in peace, not chasing deadlines, my mind is constantly worked up by the ideas that I didn’t follow up J either way it is a lose-lose (opposite to win-win?) game J

And when you find stories woven from any strand of news, you can’t help appreciating the different perspectives seen from different angles.

At least I did when I read two stories on two national treasures. One on Tagore’s missing Nobel prize and the other on Tippu Sultan’s famed sword. While the former story tried to explore the economic implications of the lost Nobel prize, the other documented the restoration of the historic sword back in its rightful place – Karnataka, albeit in the private custody of Vijay Mallya.

Vikram Doctor wrote a piece in Economic Times, on the recent theft of Tagore’s Nobel prize. If I found his idea to explore the economic implications of the theft intriguing, the actual info on the cost analysis was quite interesting.

Consider this : The prize itself weighs 200 gms. If the worst fears of everyone turn true, the thief would have melted the prize and got a grand sum of about Rs. 1,12, 000 in today’s market. The CBI has announced a cash reward of Rs. 10 lakh for information of the lost National ‘honour”. CBI hopes that the thief would be attracted by the bait of Rs. 10 lakh and would return the Prize. After all, isn’t the compensation a great deal lucrative than the market worth of the 200 gms of the yellow metal?

But, the story shows why CBI is wrong. Mr. Jeffrey Schramek, a Chicago based dealer, who also has the only Nobel for sale in the world, (the physics prize awarded to Sir James Chadwick in 1935 for discovering neutron) pegs the value somewhere around $ 500,000 !!! That translates to a whopping amount of Indian Rs. 2,25,00,000 – a far cry from the amount offered as reward by the government !! That is in the black market. “..In a public auction, I could see it bringing double of this.” Avers the Chicago dealer.

There can be no prize tags for such treasures. Nor is India a rich country to offer such huge sacks of cash for the stolen national treasure. But then, even in plain speak of economic calculations, do you get a fair idea of what we lost?

Or what we failed to preserve??