Sunday, 30 December 2007

Rose-tinted Reminiscences

Tragic though the assassination of Benazir Bhutto was, it was galling to hear, amid all the outpouring of grief, those fulsome praises of her. I didn’t have a problem with the countless nostalgic reminiscences about Pinky in Oxford – people generally like to hear and read about personal stories of leaders and other famous people; such stories tend to humanize them.

But it was a bit much to be told that she was this great democrat who wanted to uplift the poor of Pakistan and had a different vision of Indo-Pak ties. This is absolute nonsense. I felt the same when she returned to Pakistan in October in this blaze of glory and was being hailed (as was Nawaz Sharif) as the democratic alternative. Two people whose regimes were marked by corruption and venality being hailed as democrats is a bit difficult to digest. Was Benazir helping the poor in Pakistan when she spent millions on importing Evian water for her family during her stint as prime minister? Or when her husband got the tag of Mr 10 per cent? Just about seven years back, the Pakistani public was bursting crackers and dancing in the streets when General Musharaff overthrew Sharif. Nobody was clamouring for Benazir then. Public memory is short. The failures of the Musharaff administration made Benazir and Sharif seem more acceptable. We’ve seen this happen in India as well, when Rajiv Gandhi was voted out on charges of corruption in the 1989 elections and was all set for a stupendous comeback in 1991 before he was assassinated. There are so many more examples. But does that mean the media and weighty commentators on public matters should also fall into the same trap? Should they abandon their objectivity in the face of a tragic death?

I find the comparison between Benazir and Rajiv also a bit odious. The only similarities are that they came from political dynasties and their parent (father in the case of Benazir and mother in the case of Rajiv) met violent deaths, which pitchforked them into the centrestage. And that both of them were voted out and were all set for resounding comebacks when they were assassinated.

But Rajiv at least had a vision for the country. It’s another matter that many disagreed with his vision and that he couldn’t help realize it. But what vision did Benazir have for her country during her first term? I have read many articles on her after her death, but nobody has talked about where she wanted to take her country.

Rajiv was really reluctant to enter politics. He was forced into it by his mother and later circumstances. Benazir, according to several accounts, often said she didn’t choose this life but this life chose her. That contradicts all the Pinky in Oxford tales from her classmates who remember how hard she tried to be Oxford University union president. Clearly she was hardly the reluctant politician that Rajiv was.

So let us mourn the tragic death of a young leader. Let us be angry about the violence that is consuming the sub continent. But let us stop idolizing someone who clearly does not deserve a halo.

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