This year we’ve been caught up in a lot more politics than I would prefer: the partitioning of Andhra Pradesh (the state where we live) and now the national elections. But I’ve not been too compelled to write about this much because, well, politics and elections in the largest democracy in the world is a joke. The only time we mimic our colonial ancestors is every four years when we diligently line up in our millions to cast our vote for the guy who is just a little less of a windbag than the other one. The elections are a logistical feat no doubt, but what a ridiculous circus of empty trumpeting precedes it. At least a circus is entertaining – this is downright lunacy.
Two days ago the DH got stuck in the middle of a massive political rally in town. As typical of everywhere in the country, thousands of villagers had been bussed in from distant barren places to the ‘big city’, with the promise of food, water and a bit of money in exchange for holding banners, chanting slogans and making up the numbers. As he sat in the car, grumbling about these f-ing politicians, the police being totally ineffective (all with bulging pocket no doubt), the rally finally came to an end and the DH watched as thousands of people, each with a small parchi (chit, piece of paper) scuttled around in desperate panic trying to find the exact bus to take them back home to their remote village or else be stranded in the big city with no one, no food, and hardly any money to get back home. These rallies are carefully orchestrated and funded by the vast caverns of black money that wait to see the light of day at election time. Isn’t it convenient that the value of the dollar sky rockets against the rupee a few months before election time so that the hopeful candidates can bring in all those ill gotten gains to fund their rallies -more for less.(no scientific proof, pure kitchen table conjecture)
All I see are empty speeches and hollow promises delivered to hired crowds that leave in their wake plastic water packets and aluminium foil that once wrapped food parcels. My research touches on this need to patronise a political leader – if you are not within the fold of a local political leader, you fail to get a lot of handy information about welfare benefits for the poor. You also get paid to vote for a particular party and political affiliations can split once harmonious communities in to countless caste-based fanatical factions. It speaks to how cheap democracy can be when the hordes can be bought for no fault of their own. Democracy fails if the electorate is largely uneducated, uninformed and unempowered. And whose fault is that? As long as we keep them down, it’ll be easier to dominate them. God forbid we actual raise a collective consciousness of empowerment among the poorest who really need it…
Last Sunday we acquiesced (pathetically gave in rather) to the ‘relationship managers’ from the bank to come home and rummage through our financial allocations. Naturally, they pushed us towards equity (playing on the stock market) and we retreated to our cautious argument of – ‘the Sensex is too high, the only way now is down’ and ‘Let’s see what happens after the elections’. To the latter defence, these financial whiz kids armed with their intricate spreadsheets, austere graphs (all pointing UP, all dated post 2009) and dazzling models said, ‘See Madam, Modi will come to power – then it’ll be good for the markets. He will bring the investments.’ To which, inside, I cringed. My sister told me a similar story where her ‘relationship manager’ at her bank tried to get her to invest in real estate companies/bonds. I was very impressed (and I’m sure he was thrown off balance) when her left wing sensibilities asked him how many farmers she would be grabbing land from via these real estate goons? Ok, so she didn’t but it so bluntly, but you get the sentiment. So the consensus on Dalal Street is that Modi will win the election, the Sensex will shoot through the heavens, investments will come flooding in and the farmers and the adivasis (tribals)…? well, no one cared about them anyway.
The other day my dear friend from London Ms.SB asked me what I thought of the religion in politics that was tainting the Indian elections. To which I replied one could fill at least two PhDs worth of opinions on that one. To think, the man who allowed the slaughter of thousands of Muslims on his watch, under our very own noses, is still allowed to walk the earth freely and dares to ask people to follow him? The man who cannot even say that what happened in Gujurat was a horrific, shameful and tragic stain on this country’s secular ideals. Forget accepting blame, just acknowledge that a tragedy of sickening, ethnic cleansing type proportions happened. Is this really the man we are going to allow to represent our hopes and dreams? Sadly, we might just be that stupid (What’s that old adage: we get the politicians we deserve?’)
It would be wrong to take my diatribe against Modi and his economics as a sign that I am for the other side – I’m not a fan of dynastic politics or crummy politicians who had eight years to make real changes and instead got themselves tightly embroiled in one scam after another, allowed illegal mining projects to ravage our forests and played fast and loose with just about every law there is.
But it’s not the religion in politics that’s bothering me. It’s the abysmal quality and vile spirit of campaigning that troubles me more. It’s that no one has talked about the pathetic state of health care and sanitation in this country (if stars could talk or if there really are angels in the sky looking down on us I bet they’re saying, ‘I didn’t take this job to watch five hundred million people take a crap everyday.’) Who is campaigning for the rights of the adivasis (and the egregious violations of their land rights)? Who is campaigning against the ridiculous forest clearance policies and relaxation of environmental impact assessments for development projects by ‘Oily Moily’? Who is campaigning for the tigers and the wild elephants? It’s all about ‘economic development’. Has anyone talked about equitable development? I think not – that doesn’t fill the coffers of the greedy politicians and satisfy the industrial hound dogs that lap at their feet.
I have never voted in a national election. I don’t have a voter ID card. Yes, I know I can apply for one online now. And I know that I shouldn’t be allowed to complain about the state of our nation if I don’t vote. But until you can educate the hordes of people who vote on caste lines, who vote based on the lies they are fed, when election funds are not controlled by the industrial power houses…hell would probably have frozen over before I get my chance to vote.
I’ll be the first to admit that I am horribly negative about this country’s trajectory and I am extremely critical of the people at the helm. What does it say about a country when the key word in the campaigner’s lexicon is ‘corruption’? Sure, sitting around our dinner tables, we could all do it better (we could actually, much better too but no one consults anyone in this country – where’s participatory democracy and devolved governance gone? Oh, I forget, this isn’t Iceland). In my work I am currently writing about the sorry state of health care for the adivasis, the tragic condition of out of pocket spending on health care that sends 39 million Indians hurtling below the poverty line every year (not to mention the ones already below the poverty line who get squeezed a lot more when they fall ill, which is a much higher likelihood given poor nutrition, sanitation, literacy, poverty etc etc). So the more I work in research the more I weed out the problems, the more I am yearning to see progress.
And I firmly believe that if you want to experience progress, go work in a small school (or a small PHC or a tiny NGO) witness the intellectual growth of at least one child. If you can make at least one child improve their English, or grasp a mathematical concept or open their minds to dazzling scientific concepts that keep this tiny blue dot of ours spinning around yet firmly rooted in space, then you’ll be happy. Then you’ll experience progress.