We don’t need no indecisive slobs

India may be forced to suffer poor leaders. But there’s no need to celebrate them

You don’t expect this kind of extra-ordinary ordinariness from a column called National Interest by the chief editor of one of India’s top newspapers.

Now, think, who finally won. The indecisive, inarticulate, ineffective slob (Vajpayee) who did not seem to have an answer to anything, or the macho, confident, smart, decisive, modern smartie (Musharraf) who seemed to have an answer to everything?

There are many interesting, and important conclusions to be drawn from this complex argument. But the most significant is this: a modern nation needs democracy and so it needs its politicians, however clumsy, corrupt, effete and power-crazed they may be. Because a military dictator can also be all of these things. The difference is, the political leader draws his power from the democratic process, so he has a stake in preserving that system, howsoever cynical he may be. The general draws his power by throttling the democratic system and its institutions and you can see the results of that in Pakistan. [IE]

Not only is the conclusion ordinary but also mistaken. That a Pakistani dictator would collapse under the weight of the systemic and his own contradictions was never in doubt. The fact is that a doddering Musharraf would have been as much in trouble as the dashing one is in. The Chinese leadership realised this in time. The Soviets realised it too late.

The failure of a dashing Musharraf doesn’t mean all dashing heads of state will fail. Nor does it mean that India should put up with “indecisive, inarticulate and ineffective slobs”. (Vajpayee can’t be accused of being ineffective, but leave that aside.)

There’s a collective failure in the Indian political class in its inability to throw up decisive, articulate and effective leaders with a national appeal—an aspect of which Ravikiran Rao deals with in this month’s issue of Pragati.

For every dashing failed dictator, you can find many more dashing successful democratic politicians. Mr Gupta’s National Interest column should perhaps have asked why is it that modern democracies are able to throw up a Bill Clinton, a Tony Blair, a Junichiro Koizumi, a Nicolas Sarkozy and an Angela Merkel while India is throwing up I K Gujrals, Deve Gowdas and Manmohan Singhs. And it now presents us with an octogenarian Advani.

18 thoughts on “We don’t need no indecisive slobs”

  1. Acorn: ….while India is throwing up I K Gujrals, Deve Gowdas and Manmohan Singhs. And it now presents us with an octogenarian Advani.

    They are there because we, the people, put them there?

    or may be its a problem with the system, since most of the time people are voting for parties and not personalities.

  2. >>Acorn: ….while India is throwing up I K Gujrals, Deve Gowdas and Manmohan Singhs. And it now presents us with an octogenarian Advani. >>

    Fret not ! India has a long line of twenty something Akilesh Yadavs, thirty something Ramadosses, Supriya Sule, Kanimozhis – forty-fifty something Laloo, Mayawati, Jayalalitha, and Sharad Pawar.

    I did read Ravikiran Rao’s article in Pragati. It seems to argue that urbanization and a growing middle class will lead to fewer people rallying around group benefits. I think this assertion, which is quite common among Indian columnists is incorrect. I even think that the reverse is true.

    More later..

  3. I don’t think, we the people, put any of these people there. Manmohan Singh lost Lok Sabha elections, and was parachuted into the Rajya Sabha.

    Voting for parties is fine: in most other countries with the same system as ours, the electorate is hardly ever kept in suspense as to who the PM will be, until after the elections.

  4. Even if urban and middle-class voters show such a change, their numbers for the whole country are not huge enough to characterise or propel a certain type of leadership to the top.


  5. You forgot Rahul Gandhi?

    Here people talk about Democratically elected (even with in the party) leaders, not anointed clown kings.

  6. I didn’t understand your disagreement. Shekhar Gupta is saying that even bad politicians are better than dashing dictators. “a modern nation needs democracy and so it needs its politicians, however clumsy, corrupt, effete and power-crazed they may be.”

    Where does he say that we have to celebrate bad politicians?

  7. Pramod,

    That bit about bad politicians being better than dictators is what I call ordinary. What’s the big deal there to warrant it being included in a column called “National Interest”? India isn’t really contemplating having a dashing dictator.

    He doesn’t say we have to celebrate bad politicians. I say we shouldn’t. And I say that because the article celebrates bad politicians by creating a false choice (for India) between bad politicians and dashing dictators. The question—of national interest—is whether it makes sense to have ineffective slobs or effective leaders at the helm.

    (Perhaps this argument about dictators vs bad politicians is addressed to the Pakistani people. But from the tone of it, it appears he has the Indian reader in mind)

  8. One thing is sure though-India really suffers from low quality, dubious journalists like Shekhar Gupta who are basically political henchman and spineless spinmasters for the ruling establishment.Cursory analysis of the IE editorials in the last 1 years would reveal the number of somersaults that this guy has effected just to toe what shamelessely his political benefactors tell him to

    Even here in the guise of extolling the Indian political class,he tacticly takes a dig at Narasimha Rao and Vajpayee two of India’ most outstanding PM.Indecisive ,Ineffective -these are qualities that Manomohan Singh possess in ample measure but Gupta being the faithful to his master,dose not even mention his name once in the entire piece.

    Gupta’s incoherent rambling and disjointed thought process is evidently manifest in his pretenious talk shows on that commie family channel and even more in his intolerable Saturday columns .He calls it National Interest perhaps in lighter vein.

    Scums are not confined to politics alone MSM too needs to get rid of scums who now have have established stranglehold on opinion formation and dissemination

    IE is too important an institution to crumble but with this guy around i dont see much hope.Looks like only a ‘sudden removal'(coinage credit-Karan Thapar) can provide some hope for IE

  9. Its quite possible that the IE is raising this issue as part of a long winded campaign to whitewash the record of MMS, who, IMHO, fits the ‘ineffective’ bill. He’s certainly not inarticulate coz he’s often railed against the system, coalition politics and the like as they’re preventing him from realizing India’s destiny. (Which is why I say the real architect of the ’91 reforms was PVN, not MMS. Its the Politician who made the reforms possible, not the paid consultant who brought out a list of changes to be made).

    Similarly, MMS can’t really be called indecisive. The alacrity with which he’s acted on the Sachar commietea recommendations, the decision to lose sleep over select incidents and not over others, the decision to not attend the 1st anniversary of the bombay train blasts, the decision to not hang Afzal…. Agree or disagree with his decisions, but indecisiive he is certainly not.

    As for slob, the IE editor needs to look into the mirror. Words like these are cheap applause lines – setting up a monster to compare the hero with so that the hero emerges smelling sweeter in comparison.

    Aaah, why bother.

  10. Hi Sud

    That was a great analysis

    This is familiar tactics that Shekhar Gupta employs Those in the vanguard of Indian MSM are so inmcompetent that they cannot even do a simple job of hiding their own biases.

  11. Tks for the kind words prasanna.

    I too await the day when the MSM (and the oil rich Arab world) are rendered powerless. That day will certainly dawn one day, I just pray it won’t be too late by then.

    Take the MSM’s posterboy CNN-IBN. Notice how within <2 yrs of launch, the IBN worthies have demonstrated phenomenal access to a wide range of personalities – from Stephen Cohen to Nawaz Sharif to Imran to speak on the Papistan crises, to take one example – and how their journos alongwith those of NDTV get next day access to roam Rawalpindi after BB’s killing. I mean how does just any channel manage that kindas pull… Its no secret thay have US funding and org support via CNN. I’ve no doubt they’re pushing the US POV in everything from Indo-pak relations to the 123 deal. Notice how IE has come around to trumpeting the US POV besides. NAtional interest means India’s interest, and US interests need not match ours, no?

    Or maybe its my paranoia talking. Time will tell.

  12. Nitin:
    One need to thank Nehru and Patel for the fact that the Indian military has stayed subservient to its civilian masters. Else, our fate would have been no different from Pakistan’s. Our dashing Generals from Carippa to JJ Singh, have displayed all the attributes of their Pakistani counterparts — just that the democratic polity and its institutions have thwarted them. Look at the latest one – the army chief says that removing the army commander is his business, the government should just rubber-stamp the decision. There are many common and many uncommon examples of army’s disdain of our bumbling politicians. For eg., Cariappa said very explicitly that the independent India should have been under army rule.
    For all his follies, this is the biggest credit to Nehru – keeping the military in a newly-independent and developing India under check. The vision of Sardar Patel to raise the paramilitary forces as a counterpoint to the army has also been a significant contributor to that stability. Many might not be aware that the newly raised central police forces were deployed to replace the British units which were strategically stationed to counter any “mischief” by the Indian units.
    In that sense, Shekhar Gupta hasn’t covered it from a correct historical perspective. Democracy is any day better than military rule — no one is debating that. The problem is when the chatterati prefers a suave, polished and TVgenic dictator over a rustic politician and berates the unsophisticated desi. India can do with smarter politicians — sure. But I’d prefer the bumbling ones over a smartass general.
    On another note, both India and Pakistan can do with better Generals as well. Will Shkehar Gupta (originally a defence correspondent) take that challenge?

  13. offtopic.. Nitin, I have said this earlier too I think, but google reader seems to mess up with blockquotes after the layout change few months back. Reader quoted only the first para of IE article as blockquote, I was reading the subsequent para to be your opinion and for a moment I was confused what you were trying to say.

  14. The name of Gupta’s column was meant to be a sneer. If I remember correctly the column started sometime between Pokhran II and Kargil War, when Vajpayee and his cabinet were criticized for supposedly exploiting “national interest” for cementing themselves in power. I recall a couple of edits in IE ridiculing the government’s statements in parliament (or maybe they were BJP’s press statements) that used the phrase “national interest”. Gupta’s intent was to make it sound trite and cliched. The early “national interest” columns were full of sneering and acerbic attacks on the then government. But you can’t ridicule a good idea for long, and you can’t keep sniggering week after week. You’ll look like a jaded idiot acting in frustration. So in due course the column dropped even the pretense of talking about national interest.

    The gist of it all is that the name of Shekhar Gupta’s column should not be taken literally and seriously. It is the result of a poor joke petrifying. It could well have been “my rantings”, “my weekly bs” and “in which I insist that I’m not a Congress party worker” etc etc, and it wouldn’t have made a wee bit of difference.

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