Technology has its uses, but it has also disadvantages. And that has been most noticeable in the world of politics. Till television came on the media scene, the people at large hardly knew how a national leader looked. Mahatma Gandhi in his time was the icon of the masses but millions never got to see him personally or had any occasion to listen to him. So, when he decided to raise funds for Harijans in 1935, he had to travel extensively throughout the length and breath of the country, addressing literally millions of people many of them being able to see him only from a distance. But they could say that at least they had a glimpse of him. Much the same was true of Jawaharlal Nehru who travelled to carry the message of the Congress prior to the landmark 1937 general elections.
In 1936-37 during the time he travelled there were of course, no air flights. He had largely to travel by car down dusty roads, living in awful guest houses, eating whatever he was offered by local Congress organisations. He was then in his forties and could survive on the minimum of comforts. He must have covered over 20,000 miles, addressing literally hundreds of gatherings. But, in the end Nehru was still more a picture in the press than a living reality. It seems strange now, but till television came into our living rooms, Indian leaders were only names than living realities. Things have changed now.
Leaders don'thave to face prospects of travelling down poorly maintained roads and spend nights in insanitary guest houses, victims of mosquito bites. It is a wonder of the ages that a Mahatma and a Nehru could survive. And yet political leaders seem to have no desire to travel beyond their circle of influence, the most daring exceptions being a Lal Krishna Advani or a Narendra Modi. The reason why many politicians do not want to take to the road is that one is almost daily in the news and television channels are available to project a politician's image across the country simultaneously to all people.
Another reason is that the sphere of influence of many political leaders, especially those belonging to the Third Front is sorely limited. Fancy a Deve Gowda addressing a meeting in Jaipur or a Mayavati addressing a crowd in Thiruchirapally! And what standing does a Sonia Gandhi or a Rahul Gandhi have in Uttar Pradesh or for that matter in Karnataka, Gujarat or Kerala? Regional parties are in the ascendant. It is more to the point for the Congress to cultivate them and if and when the time comes, try to buy them off with offers of paying Ministerships. Lalu Prasad knows that very well. That a man involved in a major scandal and had to administer his state through his wife should have been inducted in the UPA cabinet is a reflection of the political morality of our times. That same man has now the audacity to treat the Congress like dirt by refusing to allot it no more than three seats to contest in the elections in a state that once boasted of leaders like Dr Rajendra Prasad!
The only concession that Lalu Prasad has so far made is that he will support Dr Manmohan Singh'scandidacy to Prime Ministership should the UPA coalition, now a little frayed, is returned to power. One sympathies with Dr Singh. It is doubtful whether even if he is physically fit, he has the strength of commitment of a pressing desire to make a round-the-country election tour. He remains a figurehead. This is not to belittle him. But the fact remains that he can in no circumstances be described as a national leader, beloved of the people. Respected, perhaps. Non-controversial, yes, in a way. A transparent personality against whom no charge of deviousness can be made, his role on the 123 Agreement notwithstanding. But is that the kind of Prime Minister Indian needs?
Is this a country to be run by Chief Executive Officers which is what Dr Manmohan Singh is? For all the technology available in the country there is nothing more valuable than the human presence, the feeling that the leader is among us and can be seen and heard in flesh and blood. Technology has helped to deprive leaders of contacts with people and the gathering distance between them should be a matter of concern. What is increasingly becoming evident is that there is no connect between people and politicians. Such leadership as exists as among the Third Front, for example, is amoral, anamolous, distant and unappealing. The Congress speaks not through the mouths of leaders but through spokesman with a penchant for making snide remarks against opposition parties.
Violence seems to be of no concern to them. There may be bloody street fights, stone throwing, burning of private vehicles, damage to both public and private properties, but one seldom heard a word of condemnation from these loud mouths at the fall in public standards. The minorities are shamefully exploited as is most noticeable in the Congress election manifesto. Exploited most recklessly are two words that have lost their meaning: ?Secularism? and ?Minorities?. The Congress has no idea how it will bear the financial strain when it proposes to implement the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS).
Will someone kindly explain a charge made by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India that an astromical sum of Rs 50,000 crores is unaccounted for and is missing from the Central Government'scoffers? Meanwhile one does not know who, in the end, will be the candidates chosen by all the parties to fight the elections on their behalf. The last Lok Sabha elections threw up as many as 125 MPs who had crime charges against them. A large chunk faced serious charges including murder, rape, dacoity, kidnapping and corruption. And what is painful to realise is that these MPs hailed not only from 17 different states but from exactly that number of political parties as well.
We seem to have become a nation that has lost its way in its march towards the future. What we actually need are not political leaders?we have enough of them?but moral and spiritual leaders who can teach us how to avoid hatred and violence, how to live in peace with our fellowmen. When lawyers in Chennai could take recourse to violence it is a sign that as a nation we have reached the nadir. Perhaps a national conference should be held attended by all parties to discuss the issue of deteriorating social mores. There is, unfortunately, no Gandhi among us to give a lead and to teach us values. Why shouldn'tour politicians leave out politics for a while and concentrate on re-building our social structure that is rapidly crumbling? Where there is no vision, says the Bible, the people perish.