Chasing mirages of power

There is lively interest among common people in the debates and discussions on who should be the prime ministerial candidate of the NDA and UPA for the 2014 general elections. Leaders are playing all kinds of games and the people are totally hooked. After all, it is about the head of government, arguably the most vied for position in any land, the pinnacle of power and aspirations.

That takes me to a famous episode of the Mahabharat, in which the lives of Yudhhishthir’s four brothers are salvaged because he satisfies a Yaksha, a nature-spirit, with his answers to the numerous questions of the Yaksha. One very subjective question of the Yaksha is, ‘What is the greatest wonder in the world?’ Yudhhishthir replies, ‘Day after day numerous people die and yet the living pine for eternal life.’ This applies to all those labouring to grab the highest levels of political power. Power is said to corrupt. Power corrodes too. It corrodes the image of the powerful and makes them look commonplace and failures. Power over a period of time makes the best of them look useless. Take Manmohan Singh. He ascended the chair with excellent vibes about his integrity and efficiency. But all that is gone now for most people. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Narasimha Rao, Rajiv Gandhi, Indira Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru had made a good impression before they became prime minister or in their initial period as prime minister. Soon the aura got dented and they not just lost the image of being commendable leaders, but came to be considered inept and maligned. It is astounding then that even in the backdrop of this reality, there is no dearth of people desperate to scale the peaks of power.

Power seems to be a major instance of chasing mirages. People get disillusioned when leaders who seemed eminently fit for power start appearing hugely unfit for it after some time in power. And all crowns finally turn out to be crowns of thorns. The lust for more power of those having it seems to be a case of an addict looking for one more fix of intoxication even after realising that the high it gives becomes less effective with each fix and is soon followed by a low bigger than the earlier time. The chase for power continues in the vain search of the first flush of high it gave.

I was feeling quite low a few months back at a time when Manmohan Singh was in the thick of Coalgate. In an online chat with a friend in this period, she asked me how I was. I replied I was miserable. She tried to perk me up by saying, ‘Things could have been worse. You could have been Manmohan Singh.’ It made me laugh. It also made me realise that the post for which all politicians are applying all the effort they can summon has become such a drag on the present prime minister that it actually looks unattractive. Scam after scam has engulfed his government, the economy he was expected to shepherd astutely has become a disaster in many respects, the opposition gives him hell all the time and he has even lost his treasured tag of Mr Clean. It is like a honeymoon giving way slowly to a nightmare of a marriage.

Very few people have come out of a long stint in power with a higher stature and better image than the one with which they ascended to power. Power is a test which most people fail. Osho had an interesting take on it. He said people have a lot of hidden tendencies or sanskars, many of which have the potential to expose the flaws in his character and identity.

Till a person is not in power, his inner self is not probed and revealed. But power brings out the latent weaknesses and failings of a person and shows who he is in reality. Osho said this is what happened with Nehru and many other leaders of his era. He went to the extent of saying that Gandhiji shunned power because he was afraid it would undermine his image as a Mahatma or Great Soul.

Like moths to a flame, politicians are drawn to power. And like the flame consumes moths, power erodes the credibility and credentials of a person. But the game to be one with power continues. Those who have it realise perhaps that Tu jab na mili thi to judai ka tha malal / Aur ab mili ho to tamanna nikal gayi (Till I did not have you, separation made me sad. Now when I have you, I don’t have the desire for you.) Those who experience this disillusionment cannot share it with anyone for all the dreams and aspirations that led them to power would seem rather foolish and meaningless. Nobody would want to let others know that he took himself for a ride. And of course, there is the lure that maybe tomorrow something about power would look worthwhile.

Happy hunting Messrs Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi and the rest.

The author is a senior journalist and columnist
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