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.