Merry Christmas, dear readers. Unfortunately, this season of festivities, which has turned secular in India and is celebrated by Christians and non-Christians (like me) alike, has been jarred by a series of unfortunate events, one of which is an exhibition of insipid, uninspiring leadership by the world’s largest democracy.
I am not a political person. I shy away from debating political issues in the public spaces. Yet, after agonizing over this for a whole day, I had to come out and speak my mind. The PM of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh, after maintaining a staid silence for 6 days since the brutal raping of a 23-year old student in a moving bus in Delhi, and the escalating protests (which unfortunately turned violent later on), came on screen to speak words to soothe the hurt Indian psyche. If only they were successful. Here is what the leader of the nation had to offer to us:
This has got to be, by far, the most boring, uninspiring and insipid speech one could have given after such an event. And not just that, his innocent query to his technical team asking whether the shot was OK (“Theek Hai”) drowned out the other words. The Indian Twitterati took up to jibing the words in full force online. #Theekhai is not only trending in India (at the top of the trends list) continuously since the gaffe, but also, it was on global trends for a while yesterday (around 2:40 PM).
Popular Bollywood Director and power-Tweeter, Karan Johar lamented:
Silence is truly golden if the spoken word is rusted and needs drastic polishing!!! #theekhai
— Karan Johar (@kjohar25) December 24, 2012
The people suddenly pounced on these two words and ripped apart the whole speech and ideas based on the incompetence of a technical team, 5 of whom have reportedly been placed under suspension! There has been much ribbing, ridiculing and even analysis about why the two words caught the fancy of a nation, and you do not need degrees from Oxford and Cambridge to really understand the reasons, so I shall refrain from discussing them here again. Instead, I shall focus on the Honorable PM’s speech and why it made me feel let down.
The speech was boring, routine and absolutely uninspiring. CNN-IBN Deputy Editor Sagarika Ghose pointed out:
Sorry, but PM’s speech was without feeling, wooden and totally unequal to the situation. The "theek hai" at the end revealed it as theatre!
— Sagarika Ghose (@sagarikaghose) December 24, 2012
The PM came and spoke about his daughters. This was further infuriating. Maybe he leads a simple life, and his family is still entrenched in the middle class lifestyle, but this argument brought to the fore the debate whether ministers get an inappropriately large amount of protection from the Police Force who are thus not adequately powered to protect the common man. In this regard, I must say, the West Bengal CM’s whimsical, but across-the-boards-popular nature of regularly not using the cushion of protection afforded by her position. If only more leaders were that way… I must say I find it ironic that the people’s representative needs to be protected from the people themselves. It points to something very fundamentally wrong in the system.
This speech was a short, staccato burst, read without any feeling or emotion. This ails me because it makes me feel that this erudite scholar, often criticized to be the puppet-monarch of a system run from behind, has also, in the process of being in Governance, lost his touch with the common man on the ground. Further complicating this issue was the Honorable Home Minister’s outcry comparing protesting students to Maoists and expressing his inability to go down if 100 adivasis were killed in a remote village.
This disconnect with the people is at the root of the disaffection growing in the ranks of the educated and enlightened… and spreading fast into the hinterlands as well. How ironic is it, that the very same people we elect, to lead us, to speak for us, to be our face to the world, once elected, turn their backs to us as say even if we die in hordes, it doesn’t matter.
Compare this to the United States. At the Sandy Hook Elementary, a crazed gunman shot down 20 students and six teachers. The President, Barack Obama, came out with a statement that very same night. Then, later on, he went down to Newtown to attend a multiethnic, multi-religion meet grieving for the dead. He made a strong, impassioned, heartfelt, 19-minute speech. I request you to watch it once if you already have not and compare it with the video above:
As one of the young members of a rising India, I expect my leaders to reflect the confidence that I place in them. We do not expect doddering (no, it is NOT about age, it is about the mentality) attitudes, shoddy work, insensitive mindsets. We want them to speak loud, speak clear, speak with the passion that we live our days by. We want them to assure us, instead of censoring us when we raise our concerns, when we raise our protesting voices. We do not want to live in the shadows of fear of a section 66A or a section 144 curbing our right to free speech. We want to express ourselves, and we want our leaders to express themselves with the same indignation. We want them to know what we feel. We want them to come down from dynastic, hierarchical, ivory towers, and stop living the myth of the common man. We want them to step out of their insulated, safety nets, and come out on the open platforms.
If the nation has to stride confidently into the new era, leading the world, our leaders need to speak to us, with us and for us. And unfortunately, at the moment, they seem to be doing neither.