I did not see it on the television but can well visualise what may have transpired in the Central Hall of Parliament on Tuesday. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stood ramrod straight, unsmiling and walked away. Leader of Opposition L K Advani, as is his wont, was wringing his hands as he walked away at the event commemorating Dr B R Ambedkar.
That these two worthies should behave in this fashion does not bode well for the country which is a democracy by intent even if it is somewhat flawed in its practice. Come mid-May, either Singh or Advani would be the prime minister, unless of course, a third person comes up from behind and grabs that seat. At this point, either of the two stands a one-in-three chance of getting that job. They would certainly be important players in the next Lok Sabha.
Such conduct speaks ill of the persons, even if they occupy the top two positions in the country, for that shows them up as petty and uncivil. All other attributes gets washed away by this one instance. As a thinking citizen, I would be ill-at-ease, however competent they are in things they do, in handing over the country to their administration because by this one action, the duo have shown that common courtesies apart, they are not inclined to debate, the very essence of democratic polity.
The present elections and the personal charges traded obviously have had its impact on the personal relations between the two leaders. To be called a nikamma prime minister is certainly not music to anyone' especially the target's ears. Nor, the expression 'weeping in a corner as Babri Masjid was demolished' is something that can endear Manmohan Singh to Advani. Above all, they were not abuses, not even nikamma. But the two were not there in their personal capacities but holding public office; in short, people's proxies.
It could have ended there. But Sonia who took offence to Advani calling Manmohan Singh a 'weak' prime minister has used the term 'slave' to describe Advani's approach to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. If she does not like strong words, the lady should have refrained from using them. But then this is pots calling the kettles black!
Having been in politics long enough -- Advani longer than Manmohan Singh, though the latter has seen the rough and often even the silly side from the ringside, being a bureaucrat -- both of them ought to know that a lot is said in public. A lot more is in public during elections. I have known many a politicians from the rival camps sharing notes at the end of the day which saw a lot of bitter campaigning. But why are the two offended? Why the sulk? Probably, poor self-esteem?
Both the gentlemen -- regardless of their poor conduct on Tuesday, they surely are that -- scare me because Indian democracy cannot be run by mendacious comments and public expression of hurt. They have a job to do and that comes not by quarrelling with each other even if they want to join issues but by debate, discussion, and consensus. That of course is sadly lacking in the very theatre where this ought to be vibrant and visible: the Parliament.
Only the petty feel surly, not great men. They have a tremendous capacity to not just forgive but accommodate the other point of view, find a common ground even amid disagreements. Imagine the future if the two continue in this fashion in the new Lok Sabha when the country has a continuing agenda to progress and things need to be talked over, not just across the well of the House but in behind-the-scenes to get things moving.
Both the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha to which these two worthies belong, is now more a place where only dialogue of the deaf happens. And amid that deafness, with a helpless Speaker or Chairman flaying his hands beseeching order, with members shouting their lungs out -- not talking their hearts out -- is a spectacle the people who watch the proceedings live television have ceased to react to. When have you heard a nice cut and thrust debate? And now, two surly leaders on either side of the aisle is something the country could do without.
That unbecoming scene in the Central Hall as well as the fulminations on the campaign is truly a national embarrassment for the country, divided in an issue-less election and the two could have spared the people this show of bitterness. Things that could be talked over and settled are needlessly made big issues to such an extent that today we do not know what the Congress or the Bharatiya Janata Party would do differently if voted to power. It is as if personal animosity, mud-slinging, vitriolic speeches are supposed to direct the citizen's choices.
It is expected of the citizens who are voters to find clarity amid these muddied waters and elect a set which would govern them for the next five years. As it is, all the leaders of the umpteen political parties have not helped bring out clear choices to the people. There are no clear-cut ideologies to chose from because everyone in banking on post-poll realignments. There are no clear-cut leaders as alternatives to Manmohan Singh and L K Advani if leaders and not ideologies have to determine the choices of candidates they vote.
It seems that everyone is bent on making things difficult for the voters.
Long live leaders! You can't do without them. Nor can you do anything with them.
Mahesh Vijapurkar is former deputy editor, The Hindu