Dr Jay Dubashi
An Arab was sentenced to death for being cruel to his horse. He went to the king to ask for his pardon. The Emir was a kindly soul and told the man that he was prepared to let him go if he could make his horse talk – in a year. The Arab said yes and walked away with his horse.
His friend was flabbergasted. What have you done, he asked. How can you make the horse talk?
The Arab smiled and crossed his fingers. A year, he said, is a long time. The king may die, I may die, and, who knows, the horse, poor fellow, may even talk!
Our friends who have already entered the ring for the next general elections have probably never heard of this tale. Or may be they have, which is why they are in such a great hurry to work miracles, like the Arab. Most of them know that there can be only one prime minister which means the die is cast against all but one of them, though they do not know who that one man is.
Why are they in such a great hurry? Because, they are not sure of themselves. They are not sure their parties would choose them – except perhaps one of them whose party runs the family business – and even if the parties chose them, they are not sure the voters would back them.
There are at least three hurdles they have to cross before they can make it to Race Course Road.
Hurdle No. 1 : Their party must select them as its candidate. In the case of Mulayam Singh and Mayawati and sundry others, this is a cinch. These people have their parties in their pockets, and so has Rahul Gandhi. But this may not be so in the case of other parties. There are so many claimants that the race might be a photo-finish, and even then, it may not-be over.
Hurdle No. 2: The party must win enough seats to enable it to stake its claim to forming the government. I am only talking about the “claim”; whether it really forms the government is another thing. If it has been able to win a sizeable number of seats, but is still in a minority, it must go about canvassing for support from others, not an easy task. It all depends on how many more you are short of. Twenty? Forty? Sixty? The larger the number, the longer the odds against you.
Hurdle No. 3 : You should be able to persuade the President to ask you to form the government and secure a vote of confidence in the Lok Sabha. You never know how you will be able to manoenvre this step, for it will be the most difficult. If you belong to one of the opposition parties, the entrenched interests will be against you and pull all kinds of ropes and make you stumble. Then the whole game starts all over again, and you begin rearranging your troops, but, once bitten, twice shy, your heart may not be in it.
And for God’s sake, don’t forget the voter. It is the voter who has to elect you and your party. And who knows how he will react to all the pre-election hullabaloo!
I would give the voter the utmost priority before anything, or anyone else. After all, when everything is said and done, it is he who is going to decide who is going to be prime minister, not your party, not even the Rashtrapati sitting in Rashtrapati Bhavan, not the industrialists who sit in their air-conditioned offices and pull the strings, not the faceless editorialists and columnists who write editorials and columns, though they are perhaps the most ignorant of the lot – didn’t they predict that Mrs. Gandhi would be elected with a huge majority, along with her son Sanjay, when she went to polls in 1977 after the Emergency? – and, of course, the hyper-energetic anchors of TV serials who cry themselves hoarse every evening over one candidate or the other, at the same time keeping an eye on the cheque books from advertisers, who also happen to be businessmen!
In the ultimate analysis, it is the poor voter who decides your fate; yet I find him totally neglected in the scheme of things. How many trade union meetings have the would-be PMs who flit from platform to platform addressing meetings held so far? If memory serves me right, none at all. How many dialogues have been held with farmers and their families? Again, none at all. How many times have the putative candidates visited famine areas and met the starving farmers and their families? Once again, none at all. All the energies are being directed towards meeting businessmen’s wives in their chiffon sarees and their Parisian hair-dos, women who don’t have the faintest idea of what is happeling on the ground, how inflation is eating into people’s lives and how the jobless are losing all hope of ever getting a worthwhile job and begin their lives.
The Indian voter is a big riddle. You may hire foreign opinion poll agencies to know his mind, but his mind is a big mystery and nobody knows which way it may turn on the voting day. Yet, he is given very little importance in the scheme of things, though we all know that it is the voter who will ultimately decide our fate.
We say or keep saying that prices, jobs and social security are the three biggest problems we must tackle before anything else. But I have not seen a single document from any of the hopefuls that addresses these problems. One hopeful talks about bee-hives, another of pizzas and papads. All very well, if you want to see headlines in following day’s newspapers, and the TV anchors helpfully showing lions lounging near waterholes and long-haired bee-keepers collecting honey from tree to tree.
But we all know that these are side-shows and neither bees nor lions will solve the problem of soaring prices, vanishing jobs, and the rising graph of rapes and murderous assaults on young women. Yet not a single hopeful candidate has even mentioned attacks on women, even when speaking to women. It is as if these problems just did not exist, or did not matter. But they do matter and I have a hunch that they will decide the outcome of the coming elections, not the bees, or papads or pizzas!
Margaret Thatcher, who was Britain’s first and so far only Lady prime minister, was very businesslike when she became the leader of the opposition. She appointed committees to prepare policy papers, had them approved by the party and then circulated widely so that the voters knew what to expect if and when she would come to power. People knew what to expect, and knowing the “iron lady”, they also knew she would not change her mind and would stick to the programme, come what may. And that is precisely what happened. She changed the very mould of the British economy and took it to new heights, just as she had promised.
I am not a Thatcher fan, but I admire her a lot. A single Thatcher is equal to all the Mulayams, Mayawatis and Rahul Gandhis put together!