Author of The Land of the Wilted Rose, of the The White Mahatma Quartet, Anand Ranganathan studied Chemistry at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, and went on to pursue a doctorate from Cambridge. A man of varied interests, he is researching dengue and tuberculosis at the International Center of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology at Delhi. We told you, varied interests!
Months of speculation, tens of magazine covers, hundreds of guesswork articles, thousands of conjectural tweets, and it has come to this: that one buttoned-up, aloof, enigmatic lady would decide who becomes the President of the world’s largest democracy. What weight on her shoulders, what crushing burden, what shoring up of political and intellectual acumen!
She has done it before, you see, anointed a buttoned-up, aloof and enigmatic gentleman as the Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy. And because it comes as second nature to her, all this ‘deciding’ and ‘anointing’, the media has by and large taken the declaration in its stride – it’s a given, they say: the road to Raisina Hill shall wind its long and torturous way from the leafy suburb of Janpathville. No one has questioned the brazenness with which the declaration has been made, no one has asked if this is the right way to go about it, to tap a sword on the right shoulder of someone and make him the President. After all, queens have been doing it for hundreds of years, they must think, those headline-makers and news-breakers. They must also think nothing of note is happening around India and the world which merits precedence over the reams and loops of speculative coverage that’s bombarding us like it was the opening night of Operation Desert Storm. Innocent children are being slaughtered in Syria. Af-Pak is on the boil. Iran, Russia, and China are the new axis. The Spaniards and the Greeks are on their knees looking at Angela Merkel and doing the spectacles-testicles-left pocket-right pocket routine…but our media has more pressing matters at hand. They need to inform the nation who got down from a lal-batti and rushed into which bungalow, whom did he finally meet, what did he exactly whisper. What, who, when, where…
The heart must go out to the poor Presidential candidates. From a probable list of twenty, the flock has been reduced to half of half-a-dozen. Those who’ve fallen by the wayside must not be disheartened, for they’ll surely be back to make the first list in five years time, knee and hip replacements permitting.
Half of half-a-dozen means three, but three’s too many! A toss of a coin can decide only between two. (Unless it’s a Sholay coin – but what are the chances?) And so another one bites the dust and is quickly relegated to the dog-eared pages of weekly magazines, to be weighed on the dodgy pan-balance of a kabaadiwala.
Now the fun begins! A state finance minister travels all the way to Delhi to plead for some more money for his beleaguered state, and the speculation is that it would be granted provided his party backs the Centre’s choice. So what are we dealing with here, exactly? That a man was made the President simply because a few pennies were chucked in the piss-pot? If this isn’t fixing, one needs to re-read the Asif-Butt-Aamir fixing manual. The mere fact that this particular speculation sounds so extreme in its outrageousness should have alerted the media to pay no heed to it, perhaps even keep it for a peaceful, uneventful day.
Nothing of the sort! Soon as the wickedly-smiling state minister emerges from his meeting, he is swept away by a tsunami of mikes. What did you discuss? What have you decided? Is it all true? Are you backing up the Centre’s candidate? Was it a good trade-off in the end for you? The minister displays a worried look on his face. Why the worried look? What really happened inside? Did you get the bailout? The minister smiles nervously. So you did get the bailout! And what did you promise in return? When is he becoming the President? Did you consult your chief while you were in the meeting? Did she ring and tell you what to demand? The minister is searching frantically for someone to whisk him away from this madness. Why are you looking around?Is he coming out, too? Are you going to hold a joint-press conference? The minister presents a blank face. So you are going to hold a joint-press conference! What will you be telling the nation in the joint-press conference? When do we expect it – in ten minutes? Sensing an opening, the ticker man has already begun the process of earning his daily wage: “News Flash! Ministers to hold joint-press conference. All speculation to end.”
There was a time, not so long ago, when these things were decided in the confines of one’s kitchen, among one’s kitchen Cabinet. The nation only got to know of the identity of the President when he took the oath of allegiance. The nation never asked oath of what, allegiance to whom. They never bothered with these mundane tid-bits. When Giani Zail Singh beamed: “If my leader had said I should pick up a broom and be a sweeper, I would have done that. She chose me to be President”, the nation didn’t come out on the streets to protest. They didn’t burn flags or submit a million RTIs. When Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed signed the Emergency Papers for his Prime Minister at midnight, the nation couldn’t care less – it was a deeply personal matter. After all, why should the nation care who the President is, or how he is appointed, and by whom? In a country rich with a 5000 year-old culture of kings and queens and feudal lords and ladies and maharajas who trace their lineage all the way back to the Sun God, what little does it matter to their subjects, whose only bond to the estate of their President is a bottle-less, mobile-less, bag-less, car key-less entry to the Mughal Gardens?
There is a fitting allegory to all this. No, it isn’t a helpless Alice lost in a wicked Wonderland, or the jouncing rabbit Hazel of Watership Down, or even the conniving and all-powerful Napoleon of Animal Farm. What works best is the Cadbury’s Bournville ad, the one where a white man scours the sub-Saharan Africa for the best Ghanaian Cocoa.
There she sits, the lady with a microscope eyepiece, surrounded by an edgy and nervous bunch of Presidential hopefuls.
Picking up a specimen with tweezers, she says, scrutinising it cautiously:
“The subservience…the loyalty…perfect Indian variety.”
Removing her eye from the eye-lens, she then adds, proudly: “He’ll be a President one day.”
Now she picks a second from the cluster and examines it with care. Coming away from the examination and exercising her tired eyelids, she says, breaking the uneasy silence: “He’s nothing.”
As the nation awaits its next President, there is one question more than any other that needs answering:
Has he earned it?
Image Source: [http://www.flickr.com/photos/worldeconomicforum/2946671850/]