The Pecksniffian Reality of Indian Contemporary Politics

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The political formations here have almost everything in common except the proper names. Therefore, it is supremely disingenuous when they attempt to slug it out on the television portraying the other as the incarnation of devil and themselves as repository of all that is honourable. That to any discerning observer is the biggest fraud that can ever be perpetrated on the population at large. Ashoka dwells on the Pecksniffian (borrowed from Charles ’ Martin Chuzzlewit where we do find Seth Pecksniff, who liked to preach morality and brag about his own virtue, but in reality he was a deceptive rascal, who would use any means to advance his own selfish interests) political realities of India. Here’s an interesting political debate, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.

Every political formation in India has more than just skeletons in its closet. In my opinion, there is not a single political party which has not contributed to the comprehensive debasement of Indo-polity. Therefore it is superlatively excruciating to watch the political debates day after day in which the politicians comprehensive utilise their lung power and hurl profanities at each other.

Mr Pecksniff, Character from Charles Dickens' Novel Martin Chuzzlewit

Mr Pecksniff, Character from Charles Dickens’ Novel Martin Chuzzlewit

During my stint at Oxford, I was made familiar with a word that we rarely come across in conversation nowadays. The word was Pecksniffian! It was borrowed from Charles Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit where we do find Seth Pecksniff, who liked to preach morality and brag about his own virtue, but in reality he was a deceptive rascal, who would use any means to advance his own selfish interests. I have wondered more than once whether Dickens was clairvoyant enough to have foreseen the Indian political scenario in that late 20th and early 21st centuries! Every grouping has super-abundance of Seth Pecksniff’s on its rolls!

In this context, I am often asked whether I have any constructive solutions to the contemporary crisis that continues to bedevil the country largely because of these unctuous hypocrites. Indeed I do – and I have more than once made them explicit in many columns that I have penned. I am on record having said that I regard the entire political setup as unctuously hypocritical although I may not have used the actual expression.

My main problem is that I am not entirely convinced that the system we have adopted to ascertain representatives has served our interests well. The first past the post system was rejected by a small country like the Republic of Ireland as it was felt that the diversity of the Irish society would make it difficult, if not impossible, to ensure representatives who would be prepared to represent the interests of their entire constituency regardless of which was that anyone had decided to vote. The first past the post system works well in the United Kingdom precisely because the representatives by and large accept this very fundamental principle.

When I lived in London, my MP was Sir George Young, a 6’8″ tall bicycle riding soft spoken gent from the Conservative Party, who also served as a minister in the Thatcher cabinet. My own position vis-a-vis his leader viz., Margaret Thatcher was not unknown to him. I had written several columns criticizing her in the most intense manner imaginable. It was to his credit that not once did he ever engage in any conversation with me on politics; more importantly he was always more than eager to let me sort out my own problems whenever I occasioned to approach him; and that was not all that infrequent. I do not think anyone would contend that this takes in India.

Interestingly the Irish statesman Eamonn De Valera, who was on very cordial terms with the Indian freedom fighters had corresponded with the President of the Constituent Assembly and advised that India should adopt the multiple choice voting system as happens in Ireland, which he felt would ensure a fairer and more effective representation. This did not find favour with certain members of the Assembly.

We now have a system where hardly any member of the Lok Sabha is in a position to state that he/she enjoys the support of more than 50% of the constituency electorates. With their general disinclination to accept their obligations towards those in the constituency, who were not their voters, their claim to the true mandatories of the constituency seems hollow.

But the fact that their claim is so tenuous has hardly ever deterred any elected politician in India from making very tall claims. Ditto for their political parties. For over 30 years, I have been writing on this glaring anomaly in different fora and speaking to opinion makers with access to powers that be. While most have seen merit in the argument, none was ever prepared to initiate a full-fledged debate! And understandably so! The present system has been so vulgarly gerrymandered that the only true beneficiaries are the politicians themselves. Any advantage that trickles or percolates down to the general public is only incidental. And this state of affairs is obscenely reflected in the most obvious (mostly  undeclared) symbols of affluence that accrue to practitioners of .

The political formations here have almost everything in common except the proper names. Therefore, it is supremely disingenuous when they attempt to slug it out on the television portraying the other as the incarnation of devil and themselves as repository of all that is honourable. That to any discerning observer is the biggest fraud that can ever be perpetrated on the population at large.

In the last 20 years during which television debates have gained sway, a particular tribe has come up which is entrusted to enter into this unholy arena. They are called party political spokespersons. They are supposed to adopt the most offensive postures, exercise their decibels in the most unseemly fashion, use the most deprecatory vocabulary to obfuscate the truth, unhesitatingly engage in egregiously mendacious statements, willfully drown out those holding contrary viewpoints by cheap heckling and more often than not indulge in the off putting display of supercilious condescension.

After my relocation back to India, I had to endure this tribe very night. As the arrogance quotient of the ruling party, whichever they may be, is always greater, we used to be treated to a spectacle of the likes of Manish Tewari indulging in cheap pyrogenic. There were others like Renuka Chaudhury and Jayanthi Natarajan, who used to deflect criticisms with feigned indignation laced with servile references to their leaders. Manish Tewari, on a solitary occasion, carried it just too far when he allowed himself to make offensively disparaging references to Anna Hazare. The fierce reaction forced him to go on a run and without any support from his political masters he was forced to eat a humble pie and apologize.

The year 2014 brought a new government to power. If anyone had any illusions that the quality of party spokespersons would change, they were in for a surprise. The Bharatiya Janata Party spokespersons turned out to be just as arrogant, repulsive and mendacious with the exception of the well informed and dignified Ravi Shankar Prasad and the articulate Nalin Kohli. I am not the only person who finds it a chore to listen to Sambit Patra’s high pitched superlatively arrogant attempts to drown the others through decibels and even resort to mendacious obfuscation completely violative of the democratic spirit enunciated by the great philosophers like Tocqueville. Sudhanshu Trivedi revels in deflecting the arguments through one-liners and catch phrases occasionally making bizarre pronouncements e.g., expressing a desire to be born as a cow! And whoever entrusted GVL Narasimha Rao with this responsibility should seriously reconsider after watching his inept and at times incoherent performances.

The other parties are in no better shape. The Congress (I) has a young lady called Priyanka Chaturvedi, who would have us believe that Rahul Gandhi is the Almighty’s only gift to the planet. C.R. Kesavan is great at launching diatribes with a vocal speed that makes it incomprehensible for lesser mortals like myself to keep pace with; ironical as his great grandfather, the illustrious Rajagopalachariar, whom I had the pleasure of interacting with, spoke slowly and with the clearest diction! Ajoy Kumar, a physician turned policeman turned politician has probably taken lessons from Kesavan.

The Samajawadi Party has two incoherent spokespersons viz., Waqar Asim and Bhukkhal Nawab and a lawyer Gaurav Bhatia. While the first two are agonising with their incoherence, the third has swiftly acquired the same arrogance quotient as most of the other spokespersons from the other parties. I recently bumped into a retired teacher from La Martiniere College Lucknow where he studied and he confessed that he found it painful to watch his former student defend the indefensible in the manner he does when he is asked to speak up for the likes of the unscrupulous Azam Khan or the goonish police officer and Akhilesh’s friend, Yashasvi Yadav.

The BSP being a one person party is quite content to let Sudheendra Bhadoria persists with his obsequious rantings. As to the spokespersons of the ADMK,AAP and Triamool all of them one person parties, the lesser said the better.

Laloo’s party has roped in two spokespersons Manoj Jha and Ashok Sinha who are always introduced as ‘professors.’ All I can say is if their logic is any indicator, I would be seriously concerned about their students! The JD(U) has a very coherent spokesperson in Pavan Verma, an ex-diplomat and an accomplished novelist who is sound on facts and always maintains a decorum (unlike most is not all the spokespersons). But Indian politics being what it is, I cannot but feel sorry for him when I see him with his defences of the indefensible. Ajai Aalok is a turned politician from this party, who started off on a coherent wicket but sadly the politics in his state had compelled him to go back to the ways of the politicians. The lesser said about the Shiv Sena and Communist spokespersons the better. It is a chore to watch Manish Kayande of the Sena espouse profoundly undemocratic positions which smack of odious bigotry. Rahul Narvekar’s credibility can be judged by the fact that he was the Sena’s spokesperson for years before switching alliances and becoming the spokesperson of its supposedly arch enemy the NCP. Cannot help remembering the US politician Mo Udall who once remarked:

A politician’s prayer always is: Please God let my words be soft and tender-for I may have to eat them!

I am advised that in private conversations these people are quite amicable. One wonders what makes them take up a job that requires so much of accommodation with one’s conscience in public! Most, if not all, were repulsed when the ultimate Pecksniffian Abhishek Singhvi used to sermonise on morality and hypocrisy – he still does! The only logical inference is that Indian politics runs on patronage rather than merit – and mortgaging one’s conscience on the political altar does fetch these people brownie points from their political masters.

I am especially pained to observe the manner in which people from my own profession (medical) function when placed in this role. Persistent mendacity and disregard of all humanistic norms is a staple in contemporary Indian politics and in my view debases the profession.

May sound naive but I regard medicine as the greatest profession known to mankind – provided it is practiced in the spirit it is meant to! And I would like that position to be restored.

I do not believe that the medical profession is necessarily incompatible with political activity. Many doctors have made stellar contributions in public service through politics. Even in India, I can see a physician becoming a successful politician. But it is another matter if they are asked to assume the responsibilities of political spokespersons in the present political scenario.

If the Medical Council of India had functioned in the manner it was meant to, I would even advocate them asking physicians in politics to seek voluntary erasure from the Medical Register and then seeking re-entry once they remove themselves from political arena.

Perhaps a bit too altruistic! I wonder!

©Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad

Pix from Net.

Prof. Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad

Prof. Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad

Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad is a physician /psychiatrist holding doctorates in pharmacology, history and philosophy plus a higher doctorate. He is also a qualified barrister and geneticist. He is a regular columnist in several newspapers, has published over 100 books and has been described by the Cambridge News as the 'most educationally qualified in the '.
Prof. Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad