ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Of Principles in the Political Realm

The bizarre arguments taking place over the presidential election have all the trappings of a morality play. Amidst the din and the noise, political discourse in India is distinctive in its moralistic overtones.

P olitics in our country has always been din and noise. There is very little that the noise achieves. And yet it persists. The other amazing thing about our politics is its moralistic overtones. It is a bit like a morality play. There are perhaps no other people who talk so much of morals in their public discourse. The habit is so much of a national feature that when Rajiv Gandhi was prime minister, he admitted that only fifteen paise of each rupee that his government spent actually reached those for whom the rupee was intended. He made that honest to God statement and he thought his job was done. In other words neither he nor his government was responsible for the sorry state of affairs. A typical aspect of Indian morality discourse is that it does not involve any morality acts. It is all finely articulated words, a rather beautiful sounding verbose froth. More importantly perhaps, the Indian morality discourse always assumes that my morality is hale and soundly healthy. It is your or his morality that is problematic. This is the main feature of the unending conversations on morality in public life that one hears all over the place.

The politicians have very little choice but to pursue that line of reasoning. They seem to think that they are different. In a television debate over the presidential election the other day (on one of those innumerable news channels, the name does not matter. Does it?) we had the representatives of the Congress, the Samajwadi Party, the Communist Party of India (CPI), and, of course the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The arguments were bizarre. The Congress claimed the credit for its move to make a lady the president of India. It reminded us of a little incident in the Mahabharata. When Karna tried to tell Arjuna that it was immoral (adharma) to shoot arrows at someone who was unarmed (Karna was fixing the wheel of his chariot), he asked a counter-question. What were you (Karna) doing when such and such was the situation and so on. My principles are better than yours because they are in retaliation against your opportunism. No wonder then that my opportunism is better than yours is the natural corollary of the easy morality discourse.

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