I can always hiss if I can’t bite.” That was Mamata Banerjee last Saturday, smarting over the insult of not being consulted by the UPA before introducing the Big Bang Reforms. The mercurial Trinamool leader seemed angrier over the manner in which the reforms were introduced rather than the reforms themselves. She thundered, “We can bow our heads to Ma, Mati, Manush, but not to the arrogance of power.” Ironically, in the public opinion, as indicated by the markets and television interviews of common people and analysts, she was perceived to be just as arrogant as the UPA.
Ms Banerjee still stays in a small house instead of the palatial Chief Ministerial bungalow and uses a small car rather than a swanky government-given bullet proof limousine. But it is her demeanour of sharp and loutish behaviour that is unappealing. While such behaviour was acceptable when she was an activist or when she campaigned during elections, as a chief minister, she is expected to conduct matters of the state off the streets. Notwithstanding her righteous anger, she should at least be respectful, if not decorous in speech. Mayawati, Yeddyurappa, Jayalalitha, Nitish Kumar, Shivraj Chauhan, Naveen Patnaik have all been opposition chief ministers and scathing on the UPA but I can’t remember any instance where they yelled and screamed, however much they were provoked.
This isn’t just an Indian phenomenon. In America too, as the Presidential campaign heats up, the rudeness quotient is rising. Roger Simon POLITICO’S chief political columnist writes, “Rudeness is becoming the new normal. One year ago, 33 percent of Americans accepted incivility as an inherent part of the political process. But this year, that figure has risen to 40 per cent. That’s an increase of more than 21 per cent in just one year.”
And then there is arrogance of the other kind. Those that say things like “we are in the ruling party, we decide the country’s course.” Sure, that is the truth. But do they realise how arrogant they sound? And what makes them believe that they won’t pay a price for this arrogance. In today’s world, if a leader does not communicate or communicates poorly, she will be punished invariably. We saw that with Mayawati. She stayed aloof in her ivory tower when she was the chief minister and virtually terrorised the media. Her press conferences were not interactions but durbars where only she spoke and media persons kept the cameras rolling and held pens to paper. They sat several feet away from her and dared not to get up from their chairs till she had left the room, lest she insult them. Today she purrs when she sees a microphone.
The age of arrogant leaders is over. It is time our politicians and bureaucrats read the writing on the wall. The public loathes their fleet of beacon-fitted cars, and their big bungalows with high walls. The masses seethe when these leaders talk down from the bully pulpit. It angers us to see the ease with which they slip into the entitlement regime. Most do nothing to justify being placed in that exalted position.
In India we have come to accept sons and daughters getting into their parents’ profession, whether it be politics, journalism, films, business or arts. It almost seems ingrained in our culture. The inheritance of ‘entitlement’ is inbred in us: we have the right — often bequeathed as duty — to be or do something that our forefathers did. So we have political dynasties, film dynasties, media moghuls and music gharanas (that term now literally means father to son rather than guru to shishya).
But what about the duty of living up to the responsibility entrusted in you, of being worthy of the respect that comes as entitlement. Instead, we mostly see arrogance, of both power and wealth. One derived from the other.
One remembers Atal Behari Vajpayee’s tenure as Prime Minister for the ‘sabhyata’ or civility and refinement of behaviour that he brought to 7 Race Course Road. The respectful conduct that he displayed is similar to Dr Manmohan Singh’s, even though Dr Singh lacks Mr Vajpayee’s communication skills. Dr Singh has of course taken communication through silence to another level: “Hazaaron Jawabon Se Acchi Hai Meri Khamoshi, Na Jaane Kitne Sawaalon Ki Aabru Rakhe”.
We do need a return to propriety and decency in public behaviour. Not hypocritical humility and not cantankerous arrogance. Those who are sensitive to public opinion shouldn’t build higher walls of arrogance to keep the masses out.
Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter @smitaprakash