Weak queen, sulking king, prince, dark knight and a changed game
Published: 22nd September 2013 12:00 AM
Last Updated: 20th September 2013 02:21 PM
We live in interesting times. No, we are not taking off on the dreaded Chinese Curse. Take the word literally. Indian democracy is at the crossroads. The elections are still about six months away but the battlelines drawn by veteran strategists are fast blurring.
Narendra Modi has set a scorching pace and the Congress and UPA are steadily falling behind in the race. They think that Modi has ‘jumped the gun’ and though first off the bloc, will peak before the real contest begins and has already alienated the majority of ‘secular, democratic’ Indians who will vote decisively against the man accused of post-Godhra communal carnage in 2002.
What is interesting in this case is that Modi seems to have turned the old fable about the hare and the tortoise on its head. The hare who allegedly runs with saffron hounds isn’t taking the sluggish tortoise lightly. He has shown no intentions to take a nap. Constantly on the move, he doesn’t even look back once, lest the Milkha fate befall him. He acts and leaves it for opponents to react. He realises that there is many a clip between the cup and the lip and obviously leaves nothing to chance.
The Congress, scared to expose the ideal Prime Ministerial candidate it has—the charismatic crown prince—to the line of fire and public ire, has entrusted the task of controlling the damage caused by the tornado to lightweight leaders—able men without a mass base of their own and perceived by the people as loyal courtiers. From Jairam Ramesh and Anand Sharma to Sandeep Dikshit and Renuka Chowdhury and Rasheed Masood, there is no dearth of wisecracking spokespersons who think laughing the challenger out of the court is the best strategy.
It’s true that in a game of chess, the pawns can at times trap the king and make him suffer an ignominious checkmate, but such an eventuality requires skillful players who can read the position of the pieces on the board.
Those addicted to Solitaire or more violent War Games on their laptops have little time for old-fashioned shatranj. That’s why they fail to appreciate that the queen, the most valuable asset, is at the moment not in a position to exert required force in their favour to dominate the ‘play’. The king continues to sulk silently in his castle that has been breached. He can’t trust the (c)rooks and the bishops. As a matter of fact, the party committed to secularism avoids mentioning princes of the church lest it be tainted of mobilising the ‘sants and mahants, sadhus and sanyasis’ like the ragtag army of Hindutva. The pawns wish to be promoted without moving a square wither straight or diagonally and simply fawn. On who else but the crown prince—the white knight in the shining armour who will, it’s believed, fork and pin and change the game. But the knight, on his own, can’t move. He waits and ponders. He is the player and he is the piece. He is the singer and he is the song. But why can’t we hear any music?
The clock ticks ruthlessly. Photo-ops sponsored and stage-managed days after the event—be they in Uttarakhand or Muzaffarnagar—can’t substitute for physical presence and words spoken when solace is needed. Applying healing balm after formation of scar tissue is useless if not counter-productive. (Can’t blame the woman police constable caught yawning on camera as Sonia was interacting with grief-stricken women.)
Much is being made of the Advani-Modi rift in the BJP. Let us keep the patriarch laid low and the Bhishma Pitamah bit out of this discussion for once. To any objective observer of party politics in India, there is a sign of remarkable change in the BJP. The old guard is yielding place and the High Command that mimicked the Congress has all but demolished. Modi’s nomination as the party’s Prime Ministerial candidate can’t be faulted on the ground of undemocratic/dictatorial decision-making. You may love Modi or hate him but what can’t be denied is that there is a perceptible ground swell in his favour among the party cadres. The nation is waiting and watching, not exactly with bated breath, how and when the Congress is going to change. There are no signs of the head of the tortoise emerging out of its hard shell.
In the meantime, the dark knight prances unhindered—wounding and drawing blood, hitting and running gleefully.
This leaves us with one final disturbing thought. Post-Muzaffarnagar, we are constrained to ask ourselves, can one blindly trust the majority of Indians to be ‘secular and democratic’ as per official definition? The spread of communal cancer from cities and towns to villages seems to suggest that identity-based votebank politics has pushed us to the brink.
This, dear readers, is no longer a game of chess.
Pushpesh Pant is a former professor of International Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi