Thursday, August 12, 2010

All that glitters is not 24 Karat gold

By Rupa Gulab
(Published in Bengal Post, 3rd August 2010)

Of all the preachy proverbs we were made to learn at school, the one that frightened me the most was, “Pride comes before a fall.” I continue to have deep respect for it because I actually saw how dramatically it worked in July 2008, after the Left had arrogantly (and utterly foolishly) withdrawn support to UPA-I over the Indo-US nuclear deal. Now, while we didn’t understand much (okay, why lie - we didn’t understand anything) about the nuclear deal, one thing was crystal clear: the America-unfriendly Left had absolutely no idea that the Cold War was over! How much faith can you have in a party that hasn’t bothered to read the newspapers for years? Naturally, we backed UPA-I, and to our great joy, the Left lost not just that battle but many more to come. Better still, CPM General Secretary Prakash Karat, he who was most stridently and vociferously against the deal, was left with a generous helping of egg on his face. Most of us agreed that he looked so much more attractive this way - and not just because egg white tightens unseemly pores.

During the lively vote of confidence drama on television it was clear that while Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was the victor (yay) and Rahul Gandhi and Omar Abdulla were decidedly the best looking chaps in Parliament (sigh), the real hero of the day was Lok Sabha Speaker, Somnath Chatterjee. We were aware that he had been sternly ordered by his Left comrades to resign from the post of speaker before the vote of confidence. We were also aware that he’d spent several sleepless nights mulling over this arbitrary decision – racoon-like dark circles tell tales.

To our amazement, Chatterjee conscientiously stayed on, staunchly maintaining that a speaker plays an impartial role, so that was exactly what he was going to do, yah boo sucks to you! This thrilled the nation to bits. Good heavens, a man with integrity in Indian politics! Was he an alien? Was this a dream? As the highly charged drama unfolded on our television screens, we were delighted by Chatterjee’s unique style of humour (so much more entertaining than a 2000th re-run of Friends), enjoyed his lovely old fashioned reprimands, and applauded the commanding way in which he violently thumped the table to silence raucous dissent. And how we gasped with outrage when soon after the Left (well, Karat really) viciously expelled Chatterjee for upholding the principles of the constitution instead of toeing the petty party line. Such poor losers, tsk.

A year later, in the run up to the general elections, someone (it evidently wasn’t God) came to Karat in a dream and inspired him to create the Third Front: a rag tag bunch of regional parties who were naive enough to believe that they would knock out all chances of the UPA coming back to power. Karat had such delusions of grandeur – he really, really believed this would work and it gave us so much amusement to see him huffing and puffing in a self-important manner. Of course, when the results were declared, he avoided answering questions and mumbled some rubbish about the party getting into introspection mode, while wiping a fresh batch of eggs off his face. I don’t know if you noticed, but there was a shortage of eggs in the nation for weeks thereafter. I suppressed the overpowering urge to dash off a letter saying, “What's to introspect, Dude? You're the biggest problem in the party!”

But back to my hero, Somnath Chatterjee. His tell all autobiography, Keeping the Faith: Memoirs of a Parliamentarian, is set to be released on 21st August. To rub salt into Karat’s egg-encrusted face, it will be launched by his bĂȘte noire, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. If we go by the pre-launch excerpts, Chatterjee has some rather interesting and unflattering things to say about Karat. Gosh, this is one book I’m certainly going to smash my piggy bank to buy – and I hereby solemnly declare that I will not rest till I get it autographed as well!

Poor, poor Karat. Pride indeed does come before a fall. And what a fall there was my countrymen! All along I merely believed that he would go down in history as the walking, talking omelette. Chatterjee’s memoirs, however, may make him toast.

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