It's a gray, cold day in Kolkata today. Cold as in COLD, not the usual mild West Bengal winter over dramatized by sensitive to the bone Bengalis. Even on this chilly day, a lot of people found warmth and peace. Peace at the end of a chapter coming to a close. A long, long chapter. Cruel as it seemed to me on the day after his death, there was a significant number of people who hated Jyoti Basu, who reviled him like the devil and were not about to give him even this one day of respite. They chatted derisively about the grand show of respect being put up by all the TV channels and political parties ignoring his 'legacy' of cancerous industrial stagnation and militant trade unionism. They forget, it was being discussed, of the brutal violence and horrors that his rivals and their supporters were subjected to by the B-school case-study inspiring brainwashing techniques used on the dreaded CPI-M cadre during all of the 23 years of his rule.
Then there is the other side of the coin: the almost romantic story of the young barrister abandoning the comforts of a cushy career to fight for the dispossessed, the downtrodden of the earth, intoxicated by the doctrine of Karl Marx; of the iron fisted administrator who wouldn't let Congress hoodlums massacre innocent Sikhs post Indira Gandhi's assassination while around the country, genocidal maniacs were given a free pass; the revolutionary land reforms that did indeed free thousands upon thousands of exploited land workers from the clutches of the reprehensible zamindaari system; the man whose mere name would fill up the Brigade grounds long after he had quit the post of Chief Minister because he could still speak with the "voice of the people"; and his erstwhile rivals cutting across party lines recounting their awe of him. This was a rather blinkered view of his contributions but it was definitely one point of view and judging by the number of years he spent in power and the lakhs who are turning up to show him their respect, a quite popular one too. The truth, no matter however long the two sides fight to establish the infallibility of their point of view, must lie somewhere in between.
In the modern world, emperors and dictators are passe, remnants from an age where the starting block mattered. Democracies are where the greatest of leaders are born. Let go for a second of the ridiculous notion that politicians are servants of the people. According to the age-old laws of administration, all rulers were in reality beholden to the people that they ruled. We all know how that servant-master hierarchy worked out so it's immature to expect such a radical change in human nature. Democratic politics is the ultimate test of charm, wits and skill. The power to impact people's lives is tremendous and so must be a bitter battle be fought to gain this position. I can't figure out why all the bright young men and women of this country are running after MBAs or IASes. Why be a servant when you can be king? No degree or qualification will be of any help in this race. It's a game based on the raw power of human-to-human interaction and a person's ability to influence it. Almost everyone who gets to the top does end up using that power for his own needs and benefits, a rather stupid and selfish move when you are being given a golden chance to create history and shape the future of a nation. I guess that is what separates the great leaders from the also-rans. They realize the superiority of their position and use it to the hilt to implement what they perceive to be correct. We under our own free will, appoint them as our leaders. As far as heady feelings go, things can't get headier!