The Perils of Power

In the news reports detailing the political battle in Uttar Pradesh, one small item caught my attention. It mentioned that the doughty warrior of many a battle, Mulayam Singh Yadav, was close to tears when witnessing on television the open rebellion of his chosen heir, Akhilesh Yadav. Part of his sorrow would, no doubt, have been caused by the absence of filial loyalty on the part of a family member he had personally raised to the pinnacle of power. But another significant contributor to his dejection would likely have been the realisation that he had reached the end of the road marking his political trajectory. The die was cast when the son mustered over two hundred legislators in support while the father barely managed twenty. Realism hit when the father was forced to postpone the National Convention of his party in the knowledge that there would be few attendees. This reminded one poignantly of that day in January 2003 when the then Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Vilasrao Deshmukh, landed up at Aurangabad, where I was working as Divisional Commissioner, to inaugurate the state-level sports meet of the Revenue Department. Rumours had started from early morning that the Congress High Command had decided to remove him from the Chief Minister’s post. Imagine my shock when I saw an almost empty Subhedari Guest House, with only a handful of supporters greeting him on arrival. Compare this with the hundreds of people vying for his attention on his earlier visits to Aurangabad, where he was a very popular figure. That day, the realisation dawned on me that support evaporates for a public figure the minute hangers-on and favour seekers scent that he/she is on his/her way out.

My thoughts went back to 1985, when the wife of a very senior Minister in the Maharashtra Cabinet voiced her fears over her husband surviving as Minister, following an imminent change of Chief Ministers. She was, very obviously, more concerned about the withdrawal of the facilities of नौकर-चाकर-बंगला-गाडी (servants, house and car) once they left the confines of Malabar Hill. She confessed that, after years of being used to these comforts, she was terrified at the prospect of going back to routine housework and travelling by auto rickshaw. Her husband was probably more terrified at the thought of losing the perks of office, which included a ceremonial reception at the Government Guest House, attendance of the District Collector and Superintendent of Police and the fawning audience of those seeking the crumbs of power.

More than anything else, it is the “desire for recognition” that impels the drive to cling to the trappings of power. What can explain the pitiable spectacle of an octogenarian, obviously infirm senior politician being virtually lifted onto the dais to take the oath of office? Or the phenomena of superannuating bureaucrats jostling for post-retirement sinecures and seeking to continue in public positions till well into their eighth decade of life. Not forgetting, of course, political leaders who seek to retain control of parties and governments till they are close to the century mark and an unsympathetic Providence carries them away from this world. (The Supreme Court should probably, as it has for office bearers of Cricket Associations in India, impose an age limit of seventy for holding political and bureaucratic offices as well).To all of them, I can only offer this stanza from Adi Shankaracharya’s Bhaja Govindam:

मा कुरु धनजनयौवनगवं
हरति तनमेषाि् कालः सवँ।
मायामयममदमखिलं हहत्वा
ब्रम्हपदं त्वं प्रववश ववहदत्वा।।

(Do not be proud of your friends, wealth or youth. Time destroys everything in a moment. Give up attachment to this illusory world and seek to know the Self)