We need leaders, not ‘Lakhoba Lokhande’ as Bal Thackeray would have said
The spectacle of BJP leaders hosting yagnas for the Prime Minister’s long life bordered on the ridiculous as Indians remembered leaders of more substance
I remember someone hurling a stone at Mrs Indira Gandhi and breaking her nose. She made no fuss at that breach in Prime Minister's security. When Rajiv Gandhi was Prime Minister, there was another security breach when someone shot at him from behind the bushes at Raj Ghat on Gandhi Jayanti. Only, the gun was so rusty that the bullet missed the target.
Rajiv flew to Sevagram in Wardha soon after where an anxious Maharashtra chief minister SB Chavan had heard the news and embraced him tightly like a father comforting a son patting his back, repeating, “Thank God!” over and over again.
“Yes," said Rajiv Gandhi, pointing a finger towards the sky and patting Chavan back on the arm, smiling all through, “So long as He is smiling upon me, no one can do me any harm.”
Some years later, during the Mumbai riots, a bunch of citizens stopped P.V. Narasimha Rao's cavalcade, coming out of nowhere in Malabar Hill, the posh VIP area housing ministers along with the affluent, and complained how the curfew was keeping them indoors and they were unable to even walk their dogs.
Even as Sharad Pawar, then chief minister, lost his cool, the dour Rao thrust forward his pout and promised to do something to let out their dogs soon. It became a joke among us whenever we heard that song played that it was Rao who let the dogs out (or at least off)– not everyone got it.
When someone threw a shoe at Dr Manmohan Singh in Gujarat at a public meeting, he instructed the man to be released from police custody and went home without a fuss.
In no case was the state police held in dereliction of their duty and no protesting citizen was labelled a terrorist. There were probes into all incidents but the respective Prime Ministers went about their business with much else to do and no time to fuss or grumble.
So, what is it about the Punjab incident that makes the BJP cry foul and politicise the alleged security breach in Narendra Modi's detail? Is it that after having run out of surgical strikes and spectre of terrorist attacks, they are labelling all Punjabis and Sikhs as Khalistanis?
If so, between the injustice to farmers and now ordinary Sikh citizens, they may only be strengthening the determination of the anti -BJP voters in Punjab to keep them as far away from the state as possible.
In the meantime, it does afford the nation a lot of entertainment to have sundry BJP workers amuse us with a lot of mantra-tantra-puja-paath to overcome the evil designs of the alleged conspirators.
I remember, soon after the split verdict in the 2019 Maharashtra assembly elections, Devendra Fadnavis had held a yagna in the early hours of the morning to continue residing at Varsha, the chief minister's official residence. He was sworn in the next morning but within 80 hours of that secretive oath taking, an atheist called Sharad Pawar had ousted him from office without the aid of any paath or puja but with just a wily mix of Machiavelli, Chanakya and some old-fashioned Indian jugaad.
Congress leader Digvijay Singh also lost an election despite the same priest from Madhya Pradesh performing a similar puja for him before the polls. Both are highly educated individuals but their belief in tantra-mantra than statecraft was more disappointing than amusing.
When it comes to my leaders, I prefer the stoic statesmen rather than the clownish comic entertainers. And I much prefer sober restraint to the shrill hysteria that is more often than not on public display these days.
Oh, how I long for a leader of the stature and dignity of Mrs. Gandhi who refused to dismiss her Sikh bodyguards despite knowing they could be a security threat to her person. How I long for a leader like Rajiv Gandhi, who charmed the world press with his one-liners despite his initial media-shyness and turned his smile on the statesmen of his time without having to hug them to our national mortification.
How I wish even for someone like Rao, whose wisdom impressed even if it did not charm. And how I long for the return of Manmohan Singh, who kept the economy afloat through hard times and lifted millions out of poverty instead of pushing us into penury.
How I wish for a leader who would have rather more to his repertoire than fake news and high drama and more courage than communal rhetoric. And who could write home about more than just security breaches and so-called Khalistanis.
How I long for a leader with political savvy, sophistication, civility, refinement and, above all, a record of doing something for the people instead of obsessing about one community, one party or even just one leader. How I long for a leader who was truly nationalist and not just a poseur who cannot even protect India's borders.
But most of all, I long for a leader I can be proud of, whatever my differences with him or her and who does not make me cringe, nationally and internationally unlike the current crop of men and women in government. The latter are mostly shrews but does the English language have an adequate word for those in Modi's mould, a mix of a comedian, a drama king, a faker, a fibster and a scaredy-cat?
If Bal Thackeray had been alive, he might have described a man like this as Lakhoba Lokhande – a memorable character from Acharya Atre'e famous play Toh Mee Navhech (that’s not me).
I say no more.
Non-Marathi readers do look up the references. You will know what I mean.
(The writer is Consulting Editor, National Herald, Mumbai. Views are personal)