Schizoid withdrawal is apparently a condition where you retreat from a problem if it is so large that a solution seems impossible. Your mind shuts off and you while away the time with inconsequential matters. This battle to choose the next president of India seems to fall into this category of human behaviour. The president is a largely ceremonial, constitutional post. The person in office is called upon to actually make a decision if a large crisis moment occurs — to that extent the incumbent has to have some understanding. Also, since the president represents India in a formal capacity to the world, he or she must have some presence. Other than that, presidents are better seen and not heard.
It is the party or coalition in power which is the de facto government, where it is the cabinet with the prime minister as first among equals, answerable to Parliament, which runs the country.
Why this civics lesson? Because suddenly we’re behaving as if the presidential election is the biggest issue facing us, with life and death consequences attached to the choice. There are, of course, life and death issues facing us. The fact that the latest figures show that over 60 per cent of the population in both urban and rural areas is grappling with poverty. Or that the Maoist threat has resurfaced with extra violence. Or that people from the North-east of the country are being increasingly alienated and targeted. Then there’s the economy with inflation increasing again and industrial growth remaining slow.
This is not to suggest that the presidential candidate is not important. But it is not the only and certainly not the most important problem facing us. But since the government has gone into “policy paralysis” (a snappy term is imperative in these instant gratification terms) and the opposition does not appear to have any suggestions either, we have embarked on this massive diversionary tactic. How far we get fooled by them and taken in depends on us. The more we behave as if the next president determines our fate, the easier we have made the lives of our politicians as we take our eyes off the goal post — so that they can shift it again.
Underneath all this, also, is a sort of unfulfilled desire amidst our neo-cons, neo middle classes and libertarians for a presidential form of government. If only, and all our problems would vanish in one stroke. All over cyberspace — an intriguing barometer of new, young thinking and old, entrenched positions — there are comparisons between US president Barack Obama and the President of India, Pratibha Patil.
There is, of course, no reason to compare the two. If there is a comparison, it is with Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain, since both are figureheads of sorts. The president of the United States can only be compared to our prime minister. This our new thinkers do not like. It challenges their idea of authority and for all we know, their incipient — if unexpressed — desire for dictatorship.
But whatever the reasons, we are allowing the political classes to befuddle us as they pull pointless rabbits out of their hats. The sex CD of Abhishek Manu Singhvi, real or otherwise, was one more sideshow as was the bizarre hysteria over Sachin Tendulkar’s nomination to the Rajya Sabha. That even made one wonder if the whole nation has not gone into schizoid withdrawal, not just the political classes. And it must have really made them laugh at how easily we take the bait.
As long as we don’t call the bluff of our politicians — within and without power — their diversionary dances will keep us trapped. Right where they want us.
Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona