Saturday, March 22, 2008

Politics needs good orators
Khushwant Singh

Khushwant Singh
Khushwant Singh

Now that everyone expects that the General Election is round the corner, good speakers are in great demand. As the clich`E9 goes, orators are in short supply. It is they who sway large audiences and persuade them to vote one way or the other. First, let us be clear about one thing. Good speakers are not necessarily good orators. Good speakers are at their best addressing small, educated audiences. Oratory requires different kinds of skills. Their speeches may be so much hot air and rhetoric; what they say may be against the interests of the people, but they are able to hold their audiences spellbound while they speak.

Good examples I can think of are Subhas Ghising, the Gorkha leader, Bal Thackeray of the Shiv Sena and Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat. I don't agree with anything they say, but I can't help listening to them. They are more demagogues than orators. Another point that comes to my mind is that while I have heard many good women speakers, I haven't heard a single woman who was a good orator. Their voices do not lend themselves to oratory; as soon as they raise them, they begin to scream. I heard the greatest of them, Sarojini Naidu; she was not a match to the greatest of men orators like Ataullah Shah Bukhari, the Ahrar leader.

The coming election will provide Rahul Gandhi with plenty of opportunities to hone his oratorical skills.
The coming election will provide Rahul Gandhi with plenty of opportunities to hone his oratorical skills. 

Oratory is a masculine phenomenon. I don't take into consideration film actors like Shatrughan Sinha, Dara Singh or Dharmendra, who have made politics their sidelines. Their speeches are stage performances and sound hollow. L.K. Advani is a good debater but not orator. Virtually, the only greatest orator the BJP has is Atal Behari Vajpayee. But he has lost much of his fire and has become like an extinct volcano. Amongst other politicians whose oratory impressed me was Ajit Singh, son of ex-Prime Minister Chaudhary Charan Singh. I have not heard him for a long time. He apparently is at his eloquent best when he addresses fellow Jats.

The Congress is short of good orators. I was pleasantly surprised to hear Rahul Gandhi. I didn't expect much from him. He turned out to be better than his father or mother (which is not saying much). He was a lot better than his grandmother, Indira Gandhi, and certainly a class above his great-grandfather, the great Jawaharlal Nehru, who used to ramble on and on without coming to the point. Rahul has the makings of a great orator. He knows rhetoric, pauses at proper intervals to create suspense and then delivers the punch line. The coming election will provide him with plenty of opportunities to hone his oratorical skills. I wish him luck.


The name Kapany is better known in England and the US than it is in India where he was born. Except for making short visits to his homeland, he has lived abroad for the last 45 years. His home is now in California, where he earned fame as the father of fibre

optics and made his millions through over 125 patents he holds in the field. His philanthropy includes setting up Chairs in Sikh studies and organising exhibitions of Sikh art and artifacts in London, Canada, San Francisco. One such exhibition is now permanently housed in a section of the Smithsonian Museum in Washington. He has not the slightest interest in politics, either Indian or American, nor bothers about publicising himself.

I had to extract information about his past one evening when he (after several misses) dropped in with his wife Satinder Kaur to see me. Narinder Singh Kapany was born in 1927, did his B.Sc in physics, mathematics and chemistry from Agra University and proceeded to the Imperial College of Science and Technology, London, to earn his doctorate in technical optics. From London he went to California and settled down in what has come to be known as the Silicon Valley. He taught at various universities and carried out research in fibre optics. I have no idea what they are but apparently efficacy of surgical instruments.

With every new invention he got a patent, and with every patent came handsome royalties from their exploiters. He became a millionaire many times over. Kapany's abiding interest is art. He has undoubtedly the largest private collection of old paintings and art objects. He was the prime mover in organising an exhibition in London's Albert Museum, which he took to Canada and then set up a permanent art gallery in San Francisco (California) to which he donated $ 500,000 through his Sikh Foundation. His visits to India are also a part of his passion for art. Among his favourite artists is Arpana Cour, whose works he buys up for whatever she asks. She is very expensive. He means to leave his entire collection, not to shis wife, son or daughter, but to his Foundation.