A recurrent theme in the Indian newspapers, over the past two decades, and one that is getting increasingly pronounced with the passage of time, has been the lumpenisation of Indian politics. Given the misdeeds of A Rajas and Kalmadis, the image that has formed in the minds of the Indian masses of the archetypical Indian politician is one of shameless corruption, venality, nepotism and parochial regionalism. Add to these the blatant use of muscle power by political mafia dons and there emerges the picture of an utterly sordid state of political affairs and political actors. In fact, this state is the culmination of a long process of lumpenisation of Indian polity that started in the 70s and became more and more pronounced in the succeeding decades. Gone are the days when Indian politics was peopled predominantly by legal luminaries, eminent educationists, social activists and visionary statesmen. The giants of yesterday have been replaced by the pygmies of today in all their short statured grotesqueness. In this murky world, the pursuit of Mammon and power has uprooted the anchors of values, ideals and ethics.
It is thus refreshing to come across, even though sparingly, exceptions that stand out among contemporary Indian politicians. Kapil Sibal belongs to this rare, vanishing tribe of eminent individuals still left in Indian politics. His back- ground, talents, accomplishments and above all values and ideals compare well with the best of India’s glorious political past. Born to renowned advocate in what is now Pakistan, Sibal’s family was uprooted in the wake of India’s partition. Starting life afresh, the family settled in Delhi in the 1960s and young Kapil on the strength of his academic excellence found his way into the elite St. Stephens College from where he graduated. In spite of getting selected for the premier Indian Administrative Service in 1973 he chose to follow his heart and joined the legal profession after acquiring possibly the best credentials therefor a stint at the Harvard Law School. Known for his almost encyclopedic knowledge of law he made his mark in the Indian courts and was appointed the additional Solicitor General of India in 1989.
His personal qualities mark him out from the run of the mill Indian politician. A facile command over the English language, razor-sharp wit, an astounding grasp of complex issues, quick of repartee and irresistible in debate, he has made his presence felt in Parliament as also as the Congress party’s official spokesperson. Known for his deeply secular outlook, a modern belief in scientific and technological progress, honesty and integrity, an instinctive aversion to injustice and exploitation, he has never shied away from taking on orthodoxy and fascist forces. On the personal front his intellectual sophistication comes through in his penchant for writing poetry which he taps out, on his own admission, on his Blackberry in the few free moments of peace and solitude he gets during flights. Contrary to the public persona, he comes across as an unassuming person with an old world grace and impeccable manners exuding a disarming charm.
There is however an irony in all this. These very qualities of his, exceptional as they are, sometimes make it a rather difficult for him to mix and match with the hoipolloi of Indian polity an impediment, even shortcoming, for any gifted politician. People who do not interact with him closely, are thus likely to get the impression of an aloof, even arrogant person. At times, this limits his effectiveness in molding public opinion, persuading political peers and attaching to the grass- roots of the electorate.
Nevertheless, we can take heart from the fact that while Indian polity, unfortunately, has its Rajas and Kalmadis, we also have in our midst the likes of a Kapil Sibal, a veritable oasis in a vast desert of mediocrity. May his tribe increase!
BY Pradeep B