CHINA was once a sleeping giant. India is another. China woke up under lashes from Mao's whip. India is still asleep. With her awesome physical and demographic dimensions and enormous resources -- human, material and natural -- the world's second largest democracy has the potential to reach the top of the heap. But, even after forty-seven years of independence, India remains at the bottom, the reason being, not the lethargy of her people, but the venality of her politicians. Of course, there have been excellent prime ministers from Nehru to Narasimha Rao. But prime ministers alone are not enough. Desired results are achieved, not individually by heads of governments, but collectively by governments backed up by the ruling party at the political level and the bureaucracy at the administrative level.
Completion of three years in office is not a great achievement. But it is an occasion for celebration, if the incumbent is surprised that he has lasted longer than he should have because of his incompetence or unacceptability or both. Recently, the ruling party, the Congress [I], celebrated Narasimha Rao's third anniversary as prime minister. By the way, the [I] in brackets stands for Indira Gandhi who led the group that broke away from the Indian National Congress in 1969 over ideological differences.
Countrywide celebrations are still on. The party has been putting up show after show to demonstrate the larger than life dimensions of its leader. The latest and biggest was that midsummer madness, the commandeered assembly of more than a million people at Red Fort on July 14, in the scorching Delhi sun. It was more a folly than a rally because even a schoolboy could see through the electoral motives behind it. It was only organised for the following: (i) to sell Rao, (ii) to bully the Opposition into believing that the people had no national alternative to the Congress [I], (iii) to impress it on Rajiv Gandhi's charismatic Italian widow, Sonia, that Rao did not depend on her approving nod any longer for his survival, (iv) to caution that the challengers to his leadership within the party had better behave themselves, (v) to fool the common man into believing that Rao's three years in office were more important than Nehru's seventeen or Indira Gandhi's sixteen, (vi) to give the green light to the marlas and moneybags of the party who were now free to go on with their agendas without fear and with political and official connivance and (vii) to convince the foreign powers and foreign investors that under Rao's leadership India was more powerful and prosperous than she ever was in the post-independence years. The fact is that the extravaganza was nothing more than a vulgar, gimmicky and expensive exercise in self-glorification. In August, another tamasha: the 47th Independence Anniversary. One more occasion for the ruling party's self-congratulation. Nothing wrong with promotional political jamborees which democratic ethos legitimises, but the focus should be not on slogans and rhetoric, but on solid achievements.
When Rao became prime minister in 1991 following the brutal assassination of that Prime Minister-in-Waiting, Rajiv Gandhi, it was assumed that the new helmsman wouldn't last long. His appointment was perceived as a compromise between two warring camps within the ruling party at best or as charity from the Gandhi-Nehru family at worst. Rao's critics, who were many, both in his own party and the media, dismissed him as a low-lying, ingratiating reject from Andhra politics who did not deserve serious attention. He was dismissed as a low-profile lightweight who was politically without base, administratively without guts, physically without charisma, morally without courage, ideologically without roots and intellectually without graces. Thus he was considered too soft and unattractive to make an impact: just another face in the crowd. A sheep in sheep's clothing as Churchill described Attlee. But the Cassandras were proved wrong. …