A frugal, bachelor King Rama for India?

We Have Been Laying A Premium On Pointless Political ‘Qualities’

In India, ‘Ramrajya’ means Utopia. Children learn that Lord Rama was a just king, none of his subjects was poor, and the country was safe from invasion. Lord Rama sat bejewelled on his throne, a magnificent crown on his head. He was a family man, devoted to his parents — even stepmothers — half-brothers, wife and sons. Alternative narratives may wait, please.

India yearns for a return to Ramrajya, but strangely she has decided that her stand-in for Rama cannot be a family man or magnificent. It is not enough to live modestly: the king should make a show of frugality approaching poverty. Down-at-heel rubber bathroom slippers are good, but black, cracked heels resting in them are even better.

Frugality is theatre. Mufflers, sandals and torn sweaters are the modern-day loincloth-and-ash garb of the ascetic. But why the high premium on being single? Singledom implies saintly celibacy in public life. The king is a tapasvi. He has vanquished desire. He burns with single-minded intensity in the service of the country. It is a wonderful power myth.

People also believe an heirless ruler will not use corrupt means to feather his clan’s nest. Yes, India has haemorrhaged because of corruption, but do rulers turn corrupt only for their children? And does corruption mean only misappropriation of money or any unconstitutional use of power?

Gates or Putin?

Bill Gates is the world’s richest man, and married with children. He uses a lot of his wealth to do good, but if he stood for election in India, his opponents would skewer him for splurging on pricey houses and cars.

Vladimir Putin is the world’s most powerful man but nowhere as wealthy as Gates. He is not even the richest Russian. Do you think he spends his day fretting about being poorer than his oligarchs? He has what they don’t — he can take away all they have. To think people aspire to rule only to make money is to show a very narrow understanding of power.

A businessman goes for a spin in his Bentley at night and gets mugged. A legislator in some faraway district merely plants his hands on the table to rise, and police start clearing traffic in preparation for his convoy. Which of these two images is more seductive?

Don’t for a moment think the king without a wife and children lives to serve others. He seeks power and control. True ascetics don’t dwell among people.

Hypocrisy by choice

So, we have a modern-day elected king who cares little about his personal appearance, has no family, owns neither car nor house, and his bank balance makes you want to lend him money.

And how did this man become king? By heading the largest group of legislators. Those legislators wear Rolex watches and drive Mercedes cars. Some of them are industrialists, some big landowners, some are known thugs. Their wealth grows exponentially even when the economy is in recession.

How do you reconcile these two sides of kingship — the saintly king and the band of thugs behind? Is the king just a mask? Are we, the electors, delusional? No, it is a reflection of our hypocrisy. We know what we are buying, but we just like to stick a virtuous cover over it. And our idea of virtue is still stuck in mythology.

Ramrajya ahead? You are on the wrong bus.

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