If that was the pathetic and revolting state of Congress, unfortunately the other political formations did not fare much better.

Rahuls bombastic comment on surgical strikes reminder of a hilarious British politician
Voices Blog Monday, October 10, 2016 - 11:56

Denis Healey was one of the most colourful characters in post-War British politics. There was never a dull moment when he was around. A formidable intellect coupled with tenacity of purpose ensured that he was always a delight to listen to, not just for his grasp of the subject he was expounding upon but also the manner in which he put it across.

Anyone who lived in the United Kingdom through the 80's would remember the way he used to get at his opponent's jugular. The most frequent recipient of his vituperation was Geoffrey Howe, the Conservative leader who after being a Chancellor of the Exchequer became the Foreign Secretary and later the Deputy Prime Minister, before falling out with his boss Maggie Thatcher. Healey shadowed him from the Opposition benches for most of this period. 

It was a hopeless contest. The mild-mannered Howe was simply no match not just in terms of oratory, and he knew it. Healey once recommended a dose of Howe's speech to all the insomniacs in the House. It would not be wrong to state that Healey's best contribution to world peace was the occasional restraint he imposed upon himself by not pulverizing Howe, or for that matter even Maggie Thatcher or her 'skinhead' favourite Norman Tebbit. 

Healey's autobiography, The Time of My Life, remains the funniest political memoir I have ever read. An instance he describes when his writer wife Edna was made a judge for the Booker Prize. "She devoured about 40 books, and in the end acquired more knowledge of sex than she ever could in fifty years of marriage with myself!"

Although not quite in the same league of debators as Tony Benn and Enoch Powell, he was far more effective through his very erudite arguments and was widely respected across the political spectrum. Some regard him as the best party leader the Labour Party never had, others like Roy Hattersley maintain that he was the best Prime Minister Britain never had!

To the generation before my own, he always reminded them of Winston Churchill. The same acerbic putdowns that Churchill employed for Clem Attlee. And the very same tenacity and ruthless fixity of purpose. The analogy was somewhat limited though; Churchill had the aristocratic blue blood while Healey came from a family of poor Irish immigrants. Churchill had the support of many powerful people while Healey was entirely self-made. Churchill had an appalling academic record resulting in his non-admission to any University while Healey was a scholarship holder with a brilliant record at Balliol College Oxford (Disclaimer: this columnist also went there). But the fact remains that if there was any heir to the Churchillian legacy in political terms in post-War Britain it had to be Denis Healey, although he hailed from a different party.

But the sad fact remains that Healy could not make it to the very top! He tried on three different occasions to become the leader of the Labour Party which would have resulted in him being catapulted to the prime ministerial chair. During the first two, his juniority was held against him. On the third occasion he lost to Micheal Foot, a hard-core socialist idealist who proved to be a disaster as a leader.

When it was clear that Foot was going to be routed in 1983 after Maggie's resounding Falklands victory, Healey conducted a faux pas during the election campaign. He claimed that Thatcher liked to glorify in the slaughter of the British troops!

The condemnation was universal. Even his own party did not defend him. He expressed his regret on Robin Day's show and remained contrite for the next few days. But the harm had been done. The British were not going to forgive him for making such an insensitive remark about their troops, despite the fact that Healey himself had a distinguished service record as a landing officer during the War and had been a very successful Defence Secretary with Harold Wilson for 6 years when he very adroitly averted a major crisis following Indonesian occupation of Borneo. He was ruled out as a possible successor to Foot who as expected resigned after the election loss and although he remained on the political scene, that was the end of his leadership ambitions.

I was reminded of this instance when I heard Rahul Gandhi make that utterly despicable remark ‘Khoon Ki Dalali' yesterday. For a proud Indian, it hurt me immensely.

The Indian politics does not have a requirement of decency. We have long heard cheap, intimidating and vulgar comments from people like Laloo Yadav, Adityanath, Azam Khan, Thackerays, Digvijay, Mulayam and so on. But coming from someone who claims a Nehruvian legacy, this was the nadir.

It is a well-known fact that politicians all over the world do tend to gloat over every little achievement of their governments, and India is not an exception. It is also an accepted norm that nearly all politicians of every shade tend to avoid the responsibility for their government's failures; again India is no exception. I would not be surprised if the BJP did indulge in some chest-thumping at a local level despite Modi's exhortations to the contrary. And let us face it-this happens everywhere!

Maggie Thatcher, despite her denials, did not stop her partymen from exploiting the gains of the Falkland War and it did help her electorally. The Conservatives tried the same much earlier in 1945 projecting Churchill as a leader. It did not work at the time as UK was ruled by a National Government (and not the Conservatives) for the bulk of the War. The only question is whether this political exploitation of a major military triumph in this particular case exceeded the threshold of fairness and decency. During the moments of a national crisis which this unquestionably was, everyone is expected to join hands and project a united front.

The Congress party and its allies have protested stating that the present government was being blatant in its attempt to expropriate military victory. Be that it may, in my reckoning it does not in any way condone the contemptible street urchin-expletives employed by someone who wants to be the prime minister. 

The salient question is whether he would be subjected to the rejection of his (and his mother's) aspirations as Denis Healey. To that my own answer would be a resounding negative; and I draw this inference from the reactions of the different individuals in the last 24 hours.

There has never been any unqualified rejection by anyone from the Congress, in fact his defense comes not just from the run of the mill incoherent lot politicos in his party but from the likes of Mani Shankar Aiyar, who by the way is becoming more and more tiresome each day with his rantings about his affiliation with Cambridge. Incidentally Rahul Gandhi also went to Cambridge and I presume like the rest of us who spent some time there attended the Union debates over there, where use of this language is completely forbidden and invites censures by the entire community. It makes his indiscretion even more inexplicably repugnant.

 

The other person who came out in Rahul's defense was the lawyer Kapil Sibal, a Harvard alumnus. He came up with the most bizarre defense - that Rahul comes from the Nehru-Gandhi clan and hence should be above criticism.

Sibal, if he really meant what he had said, represents a mindset which is profoundly undemocratic. More so, it is deeply demeaning to place one particular lineage on a pedestal and insulate them from any whisper of criticism no matter how serious the misdemeanor just because of a supposedly exalted lineage! Sibal insulted countless others who worked tirelessly for the country, remained nameless and certainly never laid any claim to unearned privileges. Coming from a relatively nameless freedom fighter's family myself, I took very strong exception to Sibal's remarks.

Unsurprisingly there was no expression of regret from Rahul himself for cheapening the discourse. He knows that he would be able to weather the public outrage which would be ephemeral in any case. He would therefore be spared Healey's fate. Personally I would have liked the condemnation to be more vociferous and sustained. Unfortunately, that was not so.

If that was the pathetic and revolting state of Congress, unfortunately the other political formations did not fare much better. While the Samajwadi Party and the RJD projected their incoherence or Asim Waqar and Ashok Sinha, the JD(U) projected a doctor turned politician Ajay Alok who was insufferably obnoxious.

As was Sambit Patra, another physician turned politician who indulged in a cheap diatribe questioning the values of the Gandhi family and then declaring that Sonia Gandhi was not an Indian, notwithstanding her citizenship now which entitles her to the same rights as Patra. I have personally been a strong critic of Sonia Gandhi as anyone who follows my columns would know. But to dwell on her citizenship issue which has been legally settled is distinctly below the best unless Patra can demonstrate that naturalized citizens of India are lesser than those born Indian citizens. In effect, no political party emerged with credit on this issue.

Politicians in India have always paid lip-service to military, all of them. I had asked a question few weeks ago on when did one last hear a politician’s son join the armed forces. The truth is that these people believe armed forces are meant for 'aam aadmis’ like us and not the exalted figures like them!

One is forced to despair at the state of polity in India today. There is so much venom and bile against each other which is personally driven rather than ideologically, that I simply cannot imagine Rahul and Modi ever get together and work out a plan for the country. 

We would do well to remember that Denis Healey and Geoffrey Howe despite the political slugging remained best friends. And it was John Major who warmly congratulated his opponent Tony Blair when he successfully negotiated the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland after nearly 30 years of intense discord. That is what distinguishes a mature democracy which is ideologically driven from one that has the democratic structure intact without the commensurate democratic spirit so necessary.

Note: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.

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