Casting one’s all consuming personal ambition in lofty, selfless terms is a handy political tool. It lends politicians’ quest for power an aura of grand purpose. And which true blue politician does not like grandiosity?
Speaking of quest for power and grandiosity, there is one name that embodies both above all else and it is Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Check out this comment by him yesterday. "People are saying that I have repaid the debt of Gujarat. They are now asking me to repay the debt owed to Mother India," he has been quoted as saying.
Once you shear the bogus piety that it has been packed in, what he is actually saying is, “Make me prime minister. Now.” He could not possibly say it so explicitly even if he tried because politicians are just not wired that way. Circumlocution is a requirement in their profession. Modi and his presumed rival, the governing Congress Party’s Rahul Gandhi, want you to genuinely believe that they are motivated by a loftier purpose than the appurtenances and accouterments of power. They probably are but at the heart of their quest is nothing less mysteriously grand than personal ambition.
Modi’s approach seems to be ‘I am not hankering after power but if people want me to, I will for the sake of the country.’ Gandhi, on the other hand, is deploying a form of reverse suggestion when he calls himself “irrelevant” even as he knows how relevant his personal circumstance has made him. Modi really wants you to think that if he does indeed end up nominated for the highest office in the country,he would accept it in all humility as an enormous personal sacrifice he must make for the sake of ‘Mother India’. Conversely, Gandhi’s insistence on his own personal irrelevance is merely a political device.
Of course, it is entirely possible that both men are honestly invested in their respective approaches. Perhaps, I am just being cynical because that seems to have become my default temperament. But the odds are that they are both employing transparently self-serving political devices. At one level, I understand this awkwardness to openly say “I want to be prime minister.” It sounds inelegant,greedy and too direct. But it is still so much better than palming off bogus pieties such as a “debt that must be repaid to Mother India” or “I am irrelevant.”
Personal ambition is a good attribute, even a necessary one, in worldly affairs. It is even more so in a profession such as politics where the goal of every practitioner must be to aspire for an office of power simply because it is a tool to get things done on a mass scale that one cannot accomplish individually. I am suspicious of saints who contest elections. Somehow seeking by renouncing has become a quintessential saintly quality of public life in India. The real renunciates will not let them be lured by circumstances that inexorably drag them toward formal power.
If Gandhi, for instance, wanted to stay irrelevant, the easiest way for him would have been to stay irrelevant by staying away from public life altogether. Similarly, if Modi feels so burdened by debt to Mother India that the only way he sees to repay it is by becoming prime minister without saying he wants to be prime minister, he too should have stayed away from public life. (Excuse the terribly long sentence).
It is funny how, in the end, both men resort to garden variety political grandiosity while couching their personal ambitions. I will have them know that the best way to not seek power is to actually not seek it. In effect, what they are saying is, “Give us power over our insincere protestations.” Ninety percent of the members of their respective parties would kill to be in their position of enjoying the luxury of eschewing power even as being handed it on a platter with Greek salad dressing.
So, so like that.
P.S. Pardon the heavy reading on a Friday, not that there is anything special about Fridays.