(At our annual #BringBackThe90s extravaganza, a bunch of us were getting drunk on Bacardi rum mixed with Crystal Pepsi, while the Asha Bhosle/Code Red duet played on the hi-fi, when we had a great idea. Why not, we thought, talk to a passing spirit? So we set up the old Ouija board, and started our chanting. However, half an hour later and we had nothing. Apparently, even the spirits are on snapchat these days. So we decided to shake things up a little and asked if the ghost of any benevolent dictator would want to speak with us. And lo! As soon as the words came out of our mouths, the lights flickered, the room turned frigid and our hands began to move on their own, spelling out the following.)
I see you!
Isn’t that what you’ve been wanting to hear all these years? You’ve been subconsciously seeking my attention. And I’m here to tell you that I’ve always been watching.
For a person who claims to hate me so much, you sure do seem eager to imitate the things that I did. I understand that. It’s Strong Leader 101: Find an enemy who can’t talk back. I love it!
It must surprise you that I don’t have any hate for you. Even though you are the man who was responsible for the private family entity known as the Indian National Congress losing control over its primary asset: the country.
You see, the one thing I learned from all those years in power is that for a nation-state like India, you need to keep tending to the tree of tyranny. Only a strong leader can do that. And the only person in the country with the ability to do that is you.
Yes, Jayalalitha tries by getting her minions to put stickers of her face on everything. So cute. There’s little Arvind Kejriwal, with his dog and pony show, pretending to be a national leader. So hilarious. And then there is Mamta Banerjee. She gets absolute power – and she uses it to play Rabindra sangeet at red lights? What a waste!
My daughter-in-law tried. But her inability to get her hands dirty makes her miss out. She doesn’t get that if you want something done well, you have to do it yourself. In 2004, she had the whole Congress party apparatus begging her to become Prime Minister. Grown adults debasing themselves on national television! And what did she do? Used all that political capital to make Manmohan Singh prime minister. Seriously? She gave power to a person whose writ didn’t even run in his own office.
And then, Prime Minister Bahadur Shah Zafar presided over a cabinet in which the degree to which you defied the prime minister showed how powerful you really were. Attacking him or disobeying him would at best earn you a look of betrayal from two tired eyes, a long sigh of exasperation would be sent in your general direction and you’d have to live with the knowledge that the salutation of the next letter from the prime minister’s office would have been dictated in a terse voice.
Don’t even get me started about my grandchildren. You know what one of them is doing right now? He’s giving his bank account number to a spammer pretending to be the son of a deposed Nigerian prince. If he didn’t look so much like his father I would’ve sworn he got exchanged at the hospital. The worst part is, the spammer is his own brother-in-law. Yes, my granddaughter is just like me in that she too has terrible taste in life partners.
My other grandson thinks that baring his megalomaniac teeth before even getting an iota of power is going to help him. Just like his father, he doesn’t understand that you have to keep pretending to be humble. You don’t come out of the megalomaniac closet until you achieve something! Even Arnab Goswami knows that.
This is why I don’t hate you. Because you and I are cut from the same cloth. Because I see a fellow traveller when I see one. Because you are the true heir of my legacy.
If I had any doubts about you, they were cleared when I heard Venkaiah Naidu give a speech in which he explained how your last name expands to “Maker of Developed India.” Congratulations! You now have your own version of “Indira is India.”
I love what you’ve done with the Union cabinet. All of your ministers have to constantly prove their dedication to glorifying the prime minister. In every speech, everyone is not only competing with everyone else, but they’re also competing with their own previous speech. They have to reach a newer level of sycophancy. Give up an even larger portion of their dignity than the last time. They perhaps used to be leaders in their own right once. Now, they’re just stooges. A sad, pathetic group of people that will do anything, go to any lengths to hold on to whatever tiny scraps of power that make it their way.
The thing about the people of this country is that they know how to fall in line. They have an uncanny ability to determine when the time for talk is over. They know who butters their bread! They know that the only thing to do when confronted with power is to bow before it and hope that it leaves you alone. They know that if they try to escape their place in the pecking order, they’re going to get burnt. That is why the media was crawling before you even before you took oath. That is why people will compete with one another to be your cherry-picked brown-noser.
The business class will love you as long as you keep giving them small concessions and pretend that bigger ones are on the way. Keep handing them pieces of the country and that will keep them happy. The upper class (which thinks it is actually the middle class) will be with you as long as its members are not inconvenienced. Their trains should run on time. They should get water regularly. And their food shouldn’t get expensive. They won’t care about what other things you do. Make Aadhar mandatory to breathe. Make it compulsory to sing the national anthem every time someone sneezes. Put Godse on the thousand rupee note. As long as it does not affect them personally, they really don’t care.
As for the poor, you can do the same thing that rulers in this country have been doing for centuries: exploit them. Build your superpower on the backs of their bodies. Just remember to hide them when the cameras start flashing.
Watching you bend the government machinery to your whims and fancies has been gratifying. Ruling through ordinances. Using archaic laws to punish pesky dissenters. Transferring unsympathetic judges who do not understand the importance of the nationalist project.
I’m happy to see you picked up a lot of my tricks too. Running the media down. Complaining about being made to do certain things even though you are the strong leader with his long arms over all the levers of power. Using nationalism to brow-beat your opponents. That is classic Indira, as the kids say these days. But the fact that you didn’t even have to declare Emergency to do all these things makes me so proud.
Now, since I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I did, let me give you some friendly advice. Power is a transitory thing. I know you feel invincible right now. That nothing can stop you. But it doesn’t take a second for the tide to turn.
Nothing rushes blood to the heads of our emasculated populace than a strong leader. You need to talk tough and look like you’re taking some brave steps, even if you’re meek on the inside. However, some people say that they want a benevolent dictator, but they get mighty scared when you start behaving like one. It’s like taking the fox to a henhouse and then wondering where all the hens disappeared. The minute you are less benevolent and more dictatorial towards your core constituency, they’re going to make some noise. They imagine that when their so-called benevolent dictator takes a hard decision, it’s not going to affect them. That the government’s jackboots will never come for them. They don’t get that they’re part of the problem, even if they know we are the solution. So find out whatever dumb thing they want to do, and keep their hope alive until you don’t need them anymore.
We were born to serve the people. It’s just that sometimes, serving the people means saving them from themselves. That’s a sacrifice great leaders like us have to make. A country as chaotic as ours needs a strong hand to steer it in the right direction. Those who ignore history are bound to relive it.
So, as I finally leave for the big Parliament building in the sky, I exit with the knowledge that my beloved country is in great hands.
The Queen is dead.
Long live the King!