Michael Ignatieff is perhaps the only politician who’s written a memoir on his failure as one. And that makes the book worth reading. As a Historian with a penchant for popular media, he was parachuted into Canadian politics by his own admission. Of course, he lost badly and returned to teaching. But what interests the lay reader is his description of campaigning and its effect on the person who’s leading the campaign. He describes in amusing detail, and with a degree of honesty rare for a politician, how he thought everything was going swimmingly well in the run up to the elections; because his campaign events were all in friendly territory and he ended up believing the bubble his own party had created. It was very reminiscent and somewhat analogous to safe seats and size estimation of rallies in Indian elections.
What’s striking about the entire edifice of politics in Ignatieff’s telling is, how convinced the participants are in their own ability to do good. And how much their actual success is attributable to dumb luck. Much like professional athletes who get more lucky as they practice harder, politicians seem to find serendipity more often when they are deluded ever further. One realises, the political lexicon has a short hand name even for this kind: a conviction Politician. Such a politician will always be a bit of a demagogue. After all, the skill that requires one to be a conviction politician is also what defines demagoguery: to feel a decision in the gut, not arrive at it.
The import of that to the Indian context is: this politician’s ability to flout propriety or law or both is far higher. A dangerous combination of ability and conviction in one’s own importance to the larger good is what possibly contributes to all other lesser goods being sacrificed. It is for instance hard to find an OECD country with a Parliamentary system that has a Prime Ministerial candidate contesting from two different constituencies. It takes some brass to look the voter in the eye and say: elect me as your representative not because I want to represent you in Parliament but because it’s important for you that I become the Prime Minister.
From Indira Gandhi to Narendra Modi, what India has seen is not just politicians in such bubbles but paranoid megalomaniacs who assume one’s own Prime Ministership is more important than the ethics of democratic representation of over a million people in any given constituency.