We live, to put it mildly, in “interesting times”. This is an age where TV family serials have given way to political soap operas: Are Akhilesh and Mulayam at war or peace? Or is there a chacha still in-between father and son? We have a prime minister who refuses to take a break even on New Year’s Eve and an Opposition leader who determinedly takes one every year. In 2016, the rupee was demonetised; in 2017, will it be the turn of our politics to shrink into a one man, one party show?
The latest opinion polls in the US are suggesting a much tighter race for the country’s presidency but the debate in Washington DC, at least, has slowly shifted from “will Trump be the next US president” to “gee, how did someone like Trump get so close to the White House”. This mood shift reflects the belated realisation that the US could be electing a man who is clearly unsuited to the job, someone whose outrageous remarks evoke as much anger as mirth across large parts of the country.
Writing obituaries of political parties can be a hazardous business. In July 2014, an international publication invited me to write an article on the political demise of AAP. This was a few weeks after Narendra Modi had stormed to victory in the general elections and AAP looked like a start-up, which had run out of steam. I was writing a book at the time, so declined the offer. Just as well because a little over six months later, AAP scored a stunning win in the Delhi elections. The doomsday pundits had been proven wrong.
It was a picture that radiated temporal Lutyens-land power: Sri Sri Ravi Shankar flanked by half a dozen Union Cabinet ministers, including the finance minister, the BJP president, the Delhi chief minister and the Lok Sabha speaker. Arun Jaitley may have filed a criminal defamation suit against Arvind Kejriwal, the BJP leadership and the Aam Aadmi Party may be engaged in a bitter war of words, but Sri Sri’s political-cultural jamboree along the Yamuna floodplains appeared to melt away the differences.
A few years ago, I was sitting next to Manohar Parrikar on a flight. The defence minister was then Goa chief minister and was travelling economy, dressed in trademark half-sleeve shirt, trousers and chappals. When we landed, he waited for his suitcase to come on the conveyor belt, and then pushed the trolley on his own. No retinue of personal attendants accompanying him, nothing that would remotely suggest a VIP culture. His parting shot as he exited the airport, “all of you think only Arvind Kejriwal is an aam aadmi chief minister.
The first day on roads after the implementation of the Odd-Even Rule.
History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce, but what happens when the farce is played out time and again? Many years ago, I asked the veteran socialist leader, the late Madhu Limaye, on why the Janata Party was unable to hold together in the 1970s. Limaye, a rare political intellectual, answered, “Khichdi when made at home tastes really nice but when you try and cook it in politics, it begins to smell.” The Janata Party, he said, was a khichdi, where parties with contrasting ideologies had come together with the singular purpose of defeating Indira Gandhi.
Call it "tyranny of distance” or simply the nature of the Delhi-centric 24x7 “national” media, but a day after Arvind Kejriwal’s famous win, the BJP swept the local body elections in Assam — only there were no bold headlines or screaming breaking news to announce the results.