There are two kinds of games, or should I say battles, going on at the moment. Both are equally entertaining and both of immense public interest. But, alas, they do not interest me. Not even a bit.
Why should I be interested in the general elections when I know pretty well that my life is not going to change one bit, irrespective of who the new Prime Minister is? (The only instance when my life has changed drastically due to a government decision is that I can no longer smoke in pubs and restaurants, which only makes me keep away from pubs.) Whoever forms the government will have to flow along with the tide: it will have to do a tightrope-walk between global pressures and domestic obligations. As a result, my life and your life will remain the same, as it is today and as it was three years ago. Don't prostrate before the new government in gratitude if you suddenly find yourself being able to pay your electricity bills through SMS. Technology is a juggernaut no government can't stop. If your life has been made a little easier in the last few years (for example, you no longer stand in interminable queues to book a train ticket and instead go to www.irctc.com), the credit goes to technology.
Personally, I don't care who leads the coalition at the Centre, Congress or the BJP. The BJP of today is no better or worse than the Congress. The Congress, on the other hand, is a much more responsible and well-behaved party than it used to be a couple of decades ago. So if I am asked, at gunpoint, to choose between the two, I would go for the Congress.
I covered the BJP as a reporter from 1996 to 2000, the period that saw it transformation from the principle Opposition party to the leader of the ruling coalition. I have spent countless afternoons at their 11, Ashoka Road headquarters in New Delhi. In the initial years, I was very impressed by the whole set-up at the BJP office. Most of the party leaders were very down-to-earth and highly approachable. On the other hand, it would be a Herculean task to meet even an out-of-job Congress leader: you had to plead your way through several rings of stenos and secretaries and personal assistants. I vividly remember that afternoon in April 1996 when I, as a cub political reporter, nervously walked around the BJP office, like a blind-folded man feeling the walls and trying to find his way out into a 500-word story, and ran into a bearded man with a kind smile. "My name is Narendra Modi. I am the national secretary of the BJP," the bearded man introduced himself.
Those days, if you discounted its Hindutva agenda (which it eventually dropped), the BJP was a party you strongly felt should be given a chance. The Congress had become synonymous with corruption and nepotism, and people were tired of it. The BJP, on the other hand, was a 'clean' party: it was pro-Hindu all right, but its leaders were not corrupt and were highly disciplined. Many of them were bachelors who chose to remain married to the cause of the party rather than embrace luxuries that they could have availed of as leaders of the biggest Opposition party.
But the moment it came to power, it became another Congress party. While it took decades for the Congress to fall prey to the perils of power, it took barely months for the BJP to demonstrate that it was no better. The discipline it took great pride in went to the dogs. Suffice to say that today, the two people who helped build the mass base of the BJP, albeit on the Hindutva agenda, are no longer with the BJP -- Kalyan Singh and Uma Bharati. If Advani could not retain them, how can he retain the faith of his voters?
You must be at times hating the fact that the most powerful woman in India happens to be an Italian. But let me tell you, we Indians behave well when a white man is in charge. In Indian-ruled India, the son of a local MLA can barge into a restaurant well after midnight and arm-twist the manager into serving him by saying, "Do you know who I am?" But in civilised nations -- I am sure Italy is one of them -- such lines do not work. It is not suprising, therefore, that the Congress party is a lot more civilised today.
Needless to say, I would prefer Manmohan Singh over Advani. But I doubt if Manmohan Singh would remain the Prime Minister after this election if the Congress party wins. I somehow have a feeling that Rahul Gandhi would be India's next CEO. If the Congress victory is convincing, then Manmohan Singh, the decent man that he is, will say he needs to take it easy after the recent heart surgery. Upon which, the self-appointed acolytes of Sonia Gandhi, such as Mani Shanker Aiyer, would rush to the podium and beg Sonia to be the Prime Minister. Upon which, she will make a short speech, recounting the sacrifices the Gandhi family had made for the nation, and propose her son's name. Upon which, the Congressmen, notwithstanding their individual heartburn, will prostrate before the new king. I may be horribly wrong, but there is always a chance of things unfolding in this manner if the individual performance of the Congress party is impressive.
In any case, my own future will not be any more promising and any less bleak. Therefore, the elections don't interest me.
The other battle that is being fought is the IPL championship. I haven't had up my mind whether the Twenty20 format is the best form of cricket or the worst, but it certainly is entertainment. The problem, however, is: who do I cheer for? As a Chennaiite, I might be rooting for Chennai Super Kings, but why should my adrenalin keep pumping when I am watching a match between Rajasthan Royals and Deccan Chargers? And since my favourite bowler is in one team and my favourite batsman in the other, whose side do I take?
The problem with Twenty20 is that most matches have a nail-biting finish, and unless there is national pride involved, it is not worth biting your precious nails.