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Don’t Say ‘King’!: Are We Forgetting What Democracy is All About?

Are we never again to use expressions like ‘Singh is King’ or the ‘King of Hearts,’ asks Salman Khurshid.

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Are we never again to use expressions like ‘Singh is King’ or the ‘King of Hearts,’ asks Salman Khurshid.
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My engagement with Twitter, now eleven years into the journey, has been an interesting roller coaster ride. In the early days, experienced Twitter handles advised me about never getting into one-on-one arguments and not picking the gauntlet thrown by faceless adversaries, many of whom enjoy the freedom of anonymity.

I took some advice seriously and ensured forbearance in the face of provocations but for particularly imbecilic statements organised a group of friends to orchestrate appropriate responses. We found soon enough that the trolls lacked stamina in the face of concerted retaliation, often in kind.

Much Ado About Nothing?

21 May was the death anniversary of our late, lamented leader, Shri Rajiv Gandhi. Tributes were being posted since the morning. I had already contributed to a special issue of a popular weekly magazine but thought some more was called for. So, I took to my Twitter handle and posted photographs of Rajiv ji and Rahul ji side by side with a caption, ‘The Once and Future King of Democracy’.

The Camelot phrase might be misinterpreted, so I consciously added ‘Democracy’. Naturally, it got quick reactions and within an hour or two the impressions had crossed 2 lakhs. My previous high was 4 lakhs, so I watched with interest as the numbers rolled. There were the obvious taunts and ridicule but enough support, albeit muted. In 24 hours the figure reached 3 million and counting.

Since not all were in support of my proposition, I wondered what soft spot had I disturbed to have so many take to their accounts. Interesting double-tick ministers joined the fray though with some dignity, and Salman Rushdie responded having been tagged and ended up tagging Salman Khan. Quite a potpourri!

‘Saving’ Democracy is All the Rage

I have little to say to people who recklessly used vocabulary of slavery, bottom and feet licking, prostrating etc before undeserving leadership from their point of view. But of course I was not asking them to adjust their postures much as they seem more used to it than I do. Be that as it may, you have to take Twitter as it comes.

But what intrigued, indeed troubled me somewhat, was the fact that a few seemingly educated people pounced on Democracy as though they were on a shiny steed and the former a damsel in distress.

Of late, so many sins have been committed in the name of democracy and if the high courts are to be believed, violations of human rights and dignity. The Delhi High Court described the government failure of managing oxygen supply to hospitals as the Indian George Floyd moment – ‘I cannot breath’.

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Of course, what is breathing to do with democracy, I might be asked just as I have with misplaced self-confidence been asked what a king has to do with democracy.

What Democracy is Not About!

I wish these people had paused to reflect why I have carefully and consciously used king and democracy in conjunction. Yet a media channel found it ‘strange’. For some self-opinionated it is an oxymoron. For others it is a reflection of their deep-seated illusion that our party has a democracy deficit only because they question our choice of leadership.

Do they not know that purporting to choose for others is a strain of paternalism that not only undermines liberalism but ultimately democracy itself? Claiming to know better than others is the beginning of dictatorship and surely that is much worse than kingship.

Bahadur Shah Zafar was the popularly acclaimed king who the people persuaded to lead them against the British in 1857. There have been similar cases in history from Europe, Africa, South Asia, and Japan. In a similar vein, former rulers have been elected to representative office in India on party tickets including of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Both symbolically and substantively, the sovereign’s submission to and celebration of the people’s choice is a high point of the development of democracy. It means little to sprinkle emotive phrases about servant of the people and humble follower of the masses.

A democracy is not about picking up spineless mannequins to dance to the tune of lowest common denominator; a leader has to represent the aspirations of those he is chosen to lead as indeed to lead them beyond what they can individually imagine or seek.

This is a deep question about democracy, not something that self-opinionated intellectuals wedded to a questionable ideology can conclusively pronounce in a few dozen words. It is dangerous to judge other people’s understanding of the world from the disadvantage of your sparse knowledge.

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Finally, indeed it is sad that narrow ideological positions are not only threatening democracy whose essence is disagreement and dissent beyond the footprint of agreement and consent, but in the process killing metaphorical discourse that enriches communication.

So we are never again to use expressions like ‘Singh is King’ or the ‘King of Hearts’ for we are being told it has to be ‘Singh the Servant’ and ‘Servant of Hearts’! Mind you, chess can no longer be a people’s game and Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj ke Khilari or Javed Akhtar’s Ek Mohre Ka Safar will mean little to this new India. No more ‘Tragedy King’ or ‘King of Good Times.’

But that is too great a price to pay for some people’s blind hatred for the Congress and its leaders. At times it makes one wonder whether the BJP and its supporters are really afraid of Rahul Gandhi, as perhaps they should be. But in our nostalgia for Rajiv Gandhi, the romance of Camelot resurfaces, "Don't let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot." What do they know of future gazing who do not Camelot know?

(Salman Khurshid is a designated senior advocate, Congress party leader, and is a former Minister of External Affairs. He tweets @salman7khurshid. This is a blog and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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