india cartoon
An over 12-year-old cartoon that featured in the national media to mark 50 years of India’s independence: the situation is as grim

Some statements stay with you. One of them is a Tweet I read a few days ago, just after Uddhav Thackeray had resigned as Chief Minister of Maharastra. The tweet was by a Muslim who said something like this “ I am born and brought up a Muslim and have lived in Bandra. I have seen 91 and 93. I never thought that I would have tears to see a Shiv Sena Chief Minister resign. And yet I did.”

I am not a Muslim, I don’t live in Mumbai and I am not a Marathi Manoos, yet there was something about the speech of Uddhav Thackeray as he resigned that did not seem fake or contrived. It was the speech of a man who was certainly not one who just wanted to cling to power.

If I say that Uddhav Thackeray is by nature a gentleman, people may or may not agree. But I guess more will if I put in a caveat that compared to his late father, who was abrasive, brash, and cultivated thugs, he definitely is, more will come over to my thinking. He has a benign presence and displays an unusually large reservoir of patience for a politician who gave in after facing a garrulous and abrasive opposition often acting in tandem with the Central government. One journalist attributed his patience to his training as a wildlife photographer where the wait can last for hours for the animal to show up. He does not react to the orchestrations of his opponents. These are to him, unnecessary and irrelevant digressions.

After his government fell, many commentators were of the opinion that his gentle style of functioning did more for the state than the aggression of the previous governments his party was in coalition with. I read that in his time, bureaucrats were treated with respect, and their domain expertise was understood and valued. Many said that they were treated with dignity. Apparently, the ministers did not talk down to them, Some months after the Maha Vikas Aghadi government was formed in 2019, Maharashtra faced the brunt of Covid-19. From 2020 until the beginning of 2022, Maharashtra had been amongst the top states affected by the disease. However, the coordinated efforts between the bureaucrats, ministers, and civic bodies ensured that the government machinery functioned smoothly even during the worst phase of the disease. The Mumbai Municipal Commissioner during the worst time of Covid and the autonomy and authority provided to him is often cited as an example.

But this post is not just about Uddhav Thackeray. It is generally thought that he came to power due to the smart moves of Sharad Pawar who held the remote in the last government. But having taken power, he generally conducted himself with grace and governed well. A look at political parties in the country and abroad shows that while leaders speak of democracy, they do not delegate too much power to others in the party. Now retrospect, trust was Uddhav Thackeray’s biggest mistake, as he gave too much autonomy to the current chief minister Eknath Shinde, who is a hardcore politician and who leveraged this to win over the legislators who eventually helped him to ditch the party chief and make him Chief Minister in a Mughal Era style succession battle.

Soft-spoken, courteous, mannered politicians who knew how to debate and deliberate rather than curse, hurl abuses, and a misfit in the political situation that has persisted for the last few decades. Earning the love and support of a large majority of party members, supporters and well-wishers may not make one a successful politician these days. Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Having said that, naturally, this is not always the case, as there had been many examples of patriotic and good visionary leaders of the past and even in the present.

It is a given that all politicians are in politics to gain power and implement their ideology, be it Jawaharlal Nehru or Narendra Modi. But today’s genre of politicians, in the event they lose at elections, begin resorting to turncoat politics and try in one way or another to cling on to power for their own vested interests. Many corrupt politicians, no sooner do they clinch power, start exploring opportunities to make a fast buck. To this end, they would keep no stone unturned to find ways and means to creep through any loophole they find in the rule of law. At the end of the day, citizens of our country are the ones at the receiving end. By and large, the middle class and the poor have to bear the brunt of corrupt politicians. The ignorance and sometimes indifference of voters and their lack of involvement civically is a problem for a functioning democracy, which requires the participation of the governed.

If the Maharashtra crisis as it is being called was a test Uddhav Thackeray’s fortitude, then he accepted his defeat with a grace that befits an artist more than the politician of today. When Uddhav Thackeray first became chief minister, large sections of people curled up their noses at him and declared that he was too naive and inexperienced to run the government in such a complex state as Maharashtra. By the time he resigned this week nearly three years later, Muslims were praying for him, liberals were supporting him, socialists stunned themselves by their acceptance of the Shiv Sena earlier known for its bigotry, and the poor, who were adequately fed during the lockdown and even after it, were lamenting his exit and wondering about their future.

It is no secret that unlike in the present days, there had been very many good gentlemen politicians and philanthropists whose contributions towards the progress of our country had been steadfast and praiseworthy. Their kind of politics transcended party, ethnicity, religion, language, class or caste, up-country, low-country differences, or any of the many identities which divide our people. Yet, gentlemen of their caliber, nowadays, are hard to come by. Of those who are corrupted, it is hard to distinguish whether the power corrupted the man or the men who were drawn to power were already corrupted. Whatever it may be, the Neta of today is before us.

Dr Shantanu Dutta , a former Air Force doctor is now serving in the NGO sector for the last few decades.


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