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OPINION | Who is the most arrogant of them all?

Listening to all of them speak, it would seem as though this quality of arrogance is the axiomatic slip betwixt the cup and the lip

After having battled past hurdles that are par for the election steeplechase, such as the economy, corruption, demonetisation, national security, patriotism, we’ve reached a standstill. Suddenly, just one word hangs thick in the air: ‘Ahankar’. It can perhaps be translated as hubris, arrogance, or excessive self-pride, the supposed Achilles’ heel of those who’ve been blessed with untrammelled power.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi says it is the reason for the Congress’ fall to 44 in Parliament. ‘Ahankar’ suffuses the entire body of the Congress, he holds. To back it up he conjures up pictures of entitled people or ‘naamdars’ using Indian warships as their “taxis” when on personal holidays. Then there's Priyanka Gandhi who likens Modi to the arrogant Duryodhana. “This country has not forgiven ego and arrogance. History is witness to it...Mahabharat is witness to it,” she says. Mamata Banerjee finds Modi arrogant, and Modi asks whether it is not arrogance that makes her say “I do not consider him (Modi) the country’s prime minister”. Rahul and Rabri also find Modi arrogant, and so it goes on.

Listening to all of them speak, it would seem as though this quality of arrogance is the axiomatic slip betwixt the cup and the lip. Exactly how do we understand this kind of pride, this hubris, in India and why does it matter?

Hubris that prepares the ground for the downfall of the mighty is an acquired trait. A certain stiffness of the spine, a certain arrogant slant of the head, an ‘I own this land and all it holds’ ownership in the gait, and yes, ‘all that I proclaim from the battlements is the only version of history, the veritable history and nothing but, for I am all that there is, and all that I say is pure gold.’

This arrogance differs greatly from pride that is built on achievement or accomplishment, which in themselves are all-absorbing. I built this ‘by the sweat of my brow’, it was a passion, a junoon, a fever that lived in my brain, I’ve paid my dues for that painstaking inch forward – and therefore, it was possibly humbling, it says.

Cocksure entitlement, as different from this simple pride, is a nationwide trait, binding fast the lands South of the Vindhyas to ones in the North. Its dazzling span is all-embracing from the East to the West. Hubristic pride is as much a quality of the national and state capitals as, say, wide roads with flyovers or certain white cars with red lights flashing atop and gut-wrenching sirens. In Lutyens as in Banjara or Gandhinagar or Bhopal or the many sectors of high-walled privilege that abound in this country, entitlement is in the air, starting from day one at the preschool. This is the arrogance of “Do you know who I am?”

And so despite recent the allegations of arrogance being genetically inherited, a trait passed down from the father, the grandmother, the great grandfather, the only possible exception spared so far being the humble Father of the Nation—sadly, it is not. When institutions that have been carefully built over decades are taken apart like a child’s Lego, yes, it is hubris at work. When murderous groups strike terror in the heart of those who practice a different faith, eat a different meal, without the fear of the law, it is hubris at work.

Once, Duryodhana, emperor of all he controlled and aware of it, sat proud at the head of the Lord, asked for his entire army, and thus was a war lost even before it began. Lest we forget, only crumbling edifices remain of the zamindars, the 'Babus of Nayanjore' who were engrossed in cultured pursuits such as nautch and cards, and soon found the very land shifting from under their feet.

And so, when politicians speak of arrogance, they speak of something that they know has no takers. Priyanka is right. History is indeed witness. Think of Indira, who was so arrogant that she believed she would not lose the 1977 elections.

A wary populace that has long dealt with the fancies and mood swings of ‘huzoors' and 'hukums’ (and has survived despite) has learned that while much has appeared to change, nothing actually has. It knows that it would be best to keep one’s thoughts to oneself even as one partakes of this season of largesse. As the whirling birds sweep down, as charges and counter charges are traded from the hustings, the electorate may have already made up its mind on whom they consider the most arrogant of them all.

(Mira Desai is a Mumbai-based writer and Aarthi Ramachandran is Deccan Herald’s Online Views Editor)

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