Tragedies abound in our country, from a Prime Minister who sees and hears and speaks no evil to mind-numbing rapes every day everywhere. The saddest of all tragedies is that we have no prime ministerial candidate to talk about other than Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi. Even Pakistan has a wider field to pick from, though they may all be wearing khakhi.
Asking us to choose between Modi and Rahul is cruel. It would be kinder to ask whether we want to be run over by a Mercedes or a goods carrier. At least death would be instant that way. Even so, most of us would prefer to be crushed by a Mercedes limousine; we are all class conscious and a goods vehicle would be so undignified. Besides, we are all subject to the herd mentality and we can already see where the herd is gathering.
The Western world had put a taboo on Narendra Modi. Britain was the first to lift it with its High Commissioner making a pilgrimage to Ahmedabad just before the Gujarat elections. Now the European Union has invited Modi. The Russians will perhaps follow. The Chinese have been bhai-bhai with Modi all along. He has visited China three or four times.
As always, the Americans stand apart. They have not lifted the visa ban they imposed on Modi in 2005 in protest against the 2002 riots. But they have done better than that. In late 2011, before the Europeans discovered Modi, the Congressional Research Service, an independent wing of the US Congress, named Gujarat as "perhaps India's best example of effective governance" where "controversial Chief Minister Narendra Modi has streamlined economic processes, removing red tape and curtailing corruption".
These very virtues made Modi the darling of India's corporate leaders. If India were to be run for corporate growth alone, Narendra Modi would be the ideal prime minister. Unfortunately, India is too vast, varied, complex and challenging to be run for the interests of only Indian businessmen, European investors and farsighted Chinese strategists. It needs to be run, with sensitivity and empathy, for also the socially deprived, the economically neglected, the gender-suppressed. And, yes, for the Muslims, too, who are exploited by their own leaders as well as by communally inclined politicians.
Ultimately, India needs wise prime ministers, not just efficient ones. It is best led by a Jawaharlal Nehru who would be big enough to take rivals in his cabinet, and by a Vajpayee who would be judicious enough to remind rulers of their Rajdharma. Those who diminish themselves with dogmatism diminish the country.
It is no coincidence that the same US Congressional Research report that praised Modi's business virtues was sceptical about the Congress's "heir-apparent [who] remains dogged by questions about his abilities to lead the party, given a mixed record as an election strategist, uneasy style in public appearances and reputation for gaffes".
Come to think of it, what do we know of Rahul Gandhi? Do we have any idea of his assessment of the changing strategic scene in East Asia, of the khap and caste culture that vitiates rural life in India, of the growing water crisis in the world? Of course he will have advisers to brief him on all such issues. Like he had advisers to brief him about Kalavati in Vidarbha. That poor woman's miseries increased after he made her a celebrity in Parliament.
The citizens of India have no clue about Rahul Gandhi's ideas if he has any, about his vision if he has any. Rahul Gandhi has no clue about India's problems or their possible solutions. But he has a surname. On the strength of that surname, we are told, we must welcome him as the prime minister of this great country. All the parties are doing the same. We are asked to elect sons, daughters, hangers-on and sundry criminals as rulers of the land. They don't even listen to Khrushchev, the wise communist, who said: "When you are skinning your customers, you should leave some skin on to grow again so that you can skin them again".