Same pols, different pols



Politicians are the same the world over, just as conscientious as any, and just as inclined to untruths.

And I know comparisons are odious, as the cliche goes.

Yet it was tempting to write about this one episode from US politics, striking as it was to any Indian who has grown up on stories of political parties throwing out dissenters.

The path from dissent to dissidence is short, and inevitable.

But here is another way of looking at it.

US senator Rand Paul, a Republican, has introduced a bill in the senate proposing to cut aid to Libya, Egypt and other countries where American missions have been attacked recently.

Here is how another Republican senator, John McCain, who lost the presidential race to Barack Obama in 2008, responded, with a statement opposing the bill.

“With the US Senate prepared to vote in just hours on an amendment to cut off all foreign assistance to Libya, every member of Congress, and all Americans, should know what happened today in Benghazi.

“Recent reports estimate that as many as 30,000 Libyans took to the streets in Benghazi, the city where Ambassador Chris Stevens and three of his colleagues were tragically murdered ten days ago. These Libyan demonstrators marched peacefully to the gates of the compound of Ansar al-Shariah, the militia allegedly responsible for the attack that killed Ambassador Stevens and his colleagues. The demonstrators conducted themselves peacefully. They carried signs, according to media reports, that read, ‘The Ambassador was Libya’s friend;’ ‘No, no to militias;’ and ‘Where is the army, where is the police?’ And when these brave Libyans arrived at the gates of the compound, they told this militia that they and their violent extremist agenda are not welcome in the new Libya.

“Somewhere, Chris Stevens is smiling. This is the real Libya – the Libya he knew so well, the Libya he wanted America to support and remain engaged with, the Libya for which he ultimately gave his life. These brave people in Libya are friends of America. They want our help and need our help. And we must continue to provide it to them, which is exactly what Chris Stevens would have wanted. If the Senate were to cut off all US assistance to Libya now, as Senator Rand Paul’s amendment would have us do, it would abandon our friends to our terrorist enemies, destroy America’s moral standing in the world, and do egregious harm to our national interests.”

McCain is a moderate Republican and Paul comes from the extreme wing of the party. But they belong to the same party, and disagreed completely and publicly.

Now think of an Indian politician in a similar situation. I can’t remember any MP opposing a fellow MP — from the same party — as openly and as clearly.

And in the few instances that this happened, one or the other came to some grief, accompanied by much bitterness, quickly branded as a falling out.

Once again, I am keenly aware, the two political systems are not comparable, but I am on the limited point of how they handle inner-party differences (not dissent, which is a stronger word).

It will be easy, but wrong, to think of the Congress as most guilty of steamrolling differing views specially when coloured by questions of seniority. The BJP is just as guilty. Ask Jaswant Singh and Uma Bharati.

American politics is not without flaws. It has plenty. Especially the all-consuming rivalry between the two parties, conducted earnestly by a remarkable lack of civility.

And every one outside the arena joins in too: the press, academics, experts, writers, lobbyists, entertainers, comics (and satirists), businesses and sportspeople.

It’s hard to tell politics from spin.

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