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Saturday, October 27, 2007

An award for the best Indian politician?

Joaquim Chissano was recently awarded with the $5 million prize by the Mo Ibrahim foundation. Currently only African leaders who had left office within the last three years are eligible for the prize. What if such an award was to be given in India too: an award for politicians for good service?

In India, starting a new prize is a tricky affair. Immediately, hundreds of television channels will declare their own awards on similar lines. Of course, they will be quickly supported by Pan Masala and alcohol businesses who are typically the most anxious to drive excellence in the country. And to get maximum mileage, these channels would invariably turn the awarding process into an Indian Idol type show. But selecting a politician for the award in India isn’t going to be easy. It’s far simpler in Africa where a good leader is one who hasn’t massacred more than a thousand people and has left office without killing or getting killed at the end of his term. Also unlike US or UK, in India, politicians are yet to be judged through the number of hyperboles and jokes in their scripted performances targeted at average TV watching blokes. Sponsors of such an award will also have to live under the scare of slaps and shouts from the perennially angry Mamata Bannerjee.

What about the politicians themselves? Will they be interested in such an award given that many interested parties already give such financial awards (under the table) to politicians without prejudice for their noble service? But, $5 million is a big enough amount and can be comparable to lifetime earnings that a politician can make through bribes. Also no Indian politician is yet to be anywhere near Bill Clinton who made $10mn last year just through speaking fees. So it can be taken for granted that immediately several coaching classes would crop up to train present and wannabe politicians. Habitually, parents of politicians will heckle them to fight for the award. But how can they differentiate themselves? In a country like India where policies, parties and ideologies make little difference to overall conditions of the people, and with every politician feigning to be pro-poor, pro-business, pro-majority, pro-minority, pro-anti-corruption, pro-upper caste and pro-lower caste at the same time, only extra-curricular skills can make a politician stand out. Lalu Yadav (a judge in the music contest Sa Re Ga Ma), Vajpayee (part-time poet) and the actor Govinda (part-time politician), have an edge.

But who will get the first prize for politicians? In India, it is a norm for any prize in any field to be given to Amitabh Bacchan. So the choice in the first year for all channels would be easy. Some radical channels will of course have the option of Tendulkar.

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