Excerpt: Delusional Politics by Hardeep Singh Puri

Feb 01,2019

Excerpt: Delusional Politics by Hardeep Singh Puri

A Family Business – The Indian National Congress

…On 16 December 2017, in the lead-up to the State Assembly election in Gujarat, Rahul Gandhi, the forty-seven year-old ‘reluctant prince’, assumed charge as the president of the 133-year-old party. He became the sixth member10 of the Nehru–Gandhi family to do so, replacing his mother Sonia who had held the post for nineteen years. The Nehru–Gandhi family has ruled the Congress party for forty years of its 133-year history. Rahul was elected unopposed.

During the nineteen years that Sonia Gandhi was at the helm of the Congress party, the BJP had eight presidents.

Gujarat is also where Gandhi, the ‘father’ of the Indian nation was born. Thereby hangs another tale, a successfully contrived narrative. Indira Gandhi married a Parsi, Feroze Gandhi, who was not a relative of the Gujarati Gandhi. Many believed, and in fact continue to believe, that with a family name like Gandhi, winning elections is assured. This is a small but significant starting point to study delusional politics in India.

A young colleague in the Indian Foreign Service related an interesting story. Amongst the thousands who came to greet Sonia Gandhi and her children, Rahul and Priyanka, after the Congress Party’s unexpected victory in the 2004 elections was a person whom the children recognized as an erstwhile security officer assigned to the family. They could not recall the visitor’s name. Before the person concerned had paid his respects and reached home, he had been traced and his appointment to a gubernatorial post was being processed. What, I asked, would have been the reward if they had remembered his name? Pat came the reply, he would have been appointed a cabinet minister.

Many of us have been witness to this almost feudal style of functioning that has come to define the Sonia Gandhi era in the Indian National Congress.

In June 2001, Sonia Gandhi, along with Congress leaders Manmohan Singh, Natwar Singh, Murli Deora and Jairam Ramesh, was to travel to Iceland and the United States. On their way, they made a stop in London, where I was serving as the deputy high commissioner.

Their flight was to land in London in the wee hours, and I was deputed to receive the leader of the Opposition and her party members. Two instances from this meeting still remain with me. I received them at the aerobridge and took them to the Hillingdon Suite at Heathrow. After we had settled down, I noticed that not one of her colleagues had taken a seat on the same sofa as Gandhi—Manmohan Singh and Natwar Singh were seated at one end of the room, while the others stood behind their leader. Unaware of this ‘protocol’, and finding it rather strange that senior leaders of the party refrained from even sitting on the same sofa as their president, I decided to take a seat across from Gandhi.

Sonia Gandhi pays floral tributes to late PM Rajiv Gandhi on his 74th birth anniversary on August 20, 2018, as Congress president Rahul Gandhi, his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Robert Vadra look on. (Ajay Aggarwal/HT PHOTO)
The second instance, which I remember vividly, happened when we were leaving the airport for their hotel. As the vehicles we had arranged arrived at the gate, not one of Gandhi’s colleagues took the rear seat in the same car with her.

I found this entire episode rather peculiar and was reminded of the ‘divine right of kings’. Gandhi was treated and put on the pedestal as though she were a monarch in the sixteenth century, asserting power over her subjects in the Indian National Congress. It is still not clear whether this kind of subservience was demanded or was readily forthcoming. God, for the Congress party, was somehow synonymous with the Nehru–Gandhi surname.

The Secularism Debate—Hypocrisy within Our Midst

Is secularism under threat in India? If yes, since when and from where is that threat emanating?

Those on the left of the political spectrum, who have thus far dominated the political discourse in India, paint the secular discussion as the majority i.e. Hindu, versus minority, i.e. Muslim.

The explanation, the real, underlying cause, can be found in the enabling environment characterized by the complete absence of any sense of accountability and a culture of impunity prevalent in large parts of the Hindi heartland, in the very cow belt that has been allowed to go unpunished for seven decades under various governments headed either by the Congress party, or the plethora of parties that call themselves ‘secular and socialist’.

Aroon Purie, writing as editor-in-chief of India Today on 14 July 2017, stated Ashis Nandy’s reference to a ‘chartered accountancy of violence’. This is interesting because the people who plan these attacks, he says, are not driven by faith or fanaticism but by calculations of political power. He says lynchings are a manifestation of a new type of abstracted, free floating violence seeking a soft target. The deeper reason is that underlying tensions in society cause such resentments to explode into rage. Social mobility has not gone hand in hand with social cohesion. People are living in cities without imbibing civil values. Anyone who looks, prays, eats and lives differently from the majority becomes the enemy. Sociologist Dipankar Gupta ascribes it to the imperfect establishment of the rule of law. ‘Violence is also endemic where law enforcement officials are ambiguous about their role or are partisan in the performance of their duties’.

And here I would like to point out the hypocrisy peddled by Indian liberals under the garb of strengthening Indian secularism.

As per these individuals, any public display of embracing religion in India is fine, as long as it is not Hinduism. To call oneself a Hindu draws ire and labels such as communal if not worse. The following example illustrates this point:

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi refused to wear a skull cap offered to him by a maulana in 2011, he was chastised by liberals for being disrespectful to Indian Muslims.

Rahul Gandhi too recently was chastised for stoking communalism, but this time for embracing his Hindu faith! On the campaign trail during the 2017 Gujarat State Assembly election, the Congress scion was photographed offering prayers at Hindu temples, and a leaked video showed him telling party workers he was a Shivaite.

In no other country, do we see the faith of the majority so routinely treated as the ‘other’. The majority Hindu population, its faith and cultures, are tolerant and have contributed to the peace and harmony such a diverse population enjoys. The public acceptance of one faith over another is a deeply divisive tactic deployed for political gain, and it’s time to call out those who have peddled this argument for decades.

More than seventy years after independence, 224 million Indians still live below the poverty line and India accounts for one-third of the world’s poor. Much of our physical infrastructure, railways, roads, ports, etc., need huge infusion of capital. More importantly, two of our crucial ‘systems’— healthcare and education—are falling apart. They need improvement and reform to give the average Indian citizen a decent chance for a normal subsistence-level existence.

The only real way forward to counter this communal versus secular discourse is to put India in a high growth path and address the challenge of poverty, and abject poverty, of these 172 million.

Prime Minister Modi’s Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas motto— vision of equal development for all sections of society—has the potential to transcend these issues of caste and religion. When the entire country grows, and reaps the benefits of economic development, our peaceful ethos only gets strengthened.

Endorsements for Delusional Politics :

“Delusional Politics is a sophisticated and deep reflection on the technological, political, economic and social forces driving this tumultuous era in global affairs. As a diplomat, policymaker and politician, Hardeep Singh Puri cuts through common opinion to reveal new insights into our present malaise. Rich in both historical and contemporary examples, it argues a number of thought-provoking and controversial propositions. This is an important contribution to the debate about the future of the global order – and how we might fix it.”
- Kevin Rudd, former PM of Australia and President, Asia Society Policy Institute

“Hardeep Puri’s book Delusional Politics is insightful, thought provoking, superbly researched and deftly crafted. While it’s an engaging story on global politics and global governance – and a textbook battle plan for anyone who wants to formulate foreign policy in today’s world – it is much more – it’s a fascinating read!

The lucid, open hearted account makes interesting and informative reading for academics and practitioners alike. Hardeep Puri’s unique experience and brilliant writing brings out the authentic richness of the world we are living in. The book could well be the key to all our futures.”
-Amitabh Kant, Chief Executive Officer, National Institute for Transforming India (NITI Aayog)

Hardeep Singh Puri has, among other atttributes, that rarest of qualities: lucidity of mind. If you want to learn about current events, read his accounts in Delusional Politics. Every chapter is a summary that cuts through the journalistic noise to give you the pure signal. Like a classical chronicler he manages to provide clarity about what happens in our time, put things in context, and deliver to you the proper context to make up your mind. It is as if a historian covered the present with the same filtering one can only possibly apply to the past.”
- Nassim Nicholas Taleb is the best selling author of The Skin In the Game, Antifragile, and The Black Swan, and a world renowned scholar.

This is a diplomat-politician’s unsparing political scrutiny of the rise of populism and a bruising shift from facts to belief-based politics in the post-truth era. The book looks at how Donald Trump’s rise has more to do with white-working class woes than with racism; and how Narendra Modi’s popularity is a break from the culture of impunity that existed before him. While populism has been a realty in democracies for long, he says, social media can be its force multiplier. This results in delusional politics, and delusional decision-making.

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