Sunday, February 3, 2013

Sophie’s Democracy

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

A cheer erupted among the faithful as one of his minions gave the speech nominating him. He didn’t know which minion it was, though. He had so many of them that all their faces were just a blur to him. The cheers became deafening as he took to the podium. No one would fault you for thinking that he had moves like Jagger. He looked around at the hundreds of subservient eyes watching him with hope and mild trepidation. He scanned the podium. His mother smiled at him and nodded. The Prime Minister gave him the look of gratefulness that he usually reserves only for American Presidents. The country’s favourite man-child smirked on the inside. You might as well call him Buddha from now on because at that precise moment he finally understood why he was ‘The One.’

No one could stop him now.  .

* * *

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or haven’t recently run into that irritating person in your life who cannot stop talking about politics, you’d know that armageddon the general elections are nigh. They’re officially scheduled to take place next year but the news media would like them to happen right now so that they can regurgitate all their clichés (People only vote their cast and not cast their vote! A week is a long time in Indian politics! The voters are quite smart even though they keep voting for assholes!)  and make some money (Would you like the positive coverage package or the no news is good news package?). The UPA doesn’t even want to think about the election because it’s tired of running one of the most corrupt, undemocratic and clueless government in the country’s history and all it wants to do is lie down and close its eyes for a minute. The BJP believes that it has already won the election and the vote is just a formality and despite plenty of evidence to the contrary its going to do a better job than the UPA, ‘god promise.’ And the people can’t wait to invest their hopes and dreams in yet another government that will be worse than its predecessors so that they can vote them out too.

Even though most political parties have been preparing since last year (‘To govern’ refers to distributing freebies to your base, doesn’t it?), the campaign began in earnest this year when the Congress officially crowned its reigning prince as the Next Big Saviour and set him up for spectacular failure and/or mild success, while the various factions of the BJP were busy negotiating with each other to decide upon the most impotent and least harmful person who wouldn’t ruffle any feathers or do anything that his job entails so that they could make him President of their party.

The elections are going to give us such a stark choice. One of the parties consists of a bunch of unelectable regional satraps whose lust for power is only matched by their subservience to their favourite family and who would willingly elect a monkey if they were directed to do so by their dear leader. The other is a cauldron of Prime Ministerial ambitions bursting at the seams and barely held together by its members’ increasingly fleeting loyalty to a bunch of religious octogenarians who still wear shorts to work. Here’s a pro tip: If none of the political parties in your country hold elections to fill their leadership positions, then their commitment to 'democracy’ might not be as strong as they want you believe.

Let’s face it. The next election is going to be a contest between Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi. The Gandhi political machine meets the Modi juggernaut. The public image both of them have constructed for themselves over the past few years are going to battle each other in an election campaign that will make you want to curl up in a fetal position and cry softly into a pillow.

Rahul Gandhi is neither this salt-of-the-earth politician who pretends to be obsessed with uplifting the downtrodden nor is he a ‘youth icon’ who wants to change the very system from which he draws his power. He will never be the ‘man of the people,’ no matter how many choreographed visits to homes in rural villages or ‘spontaneous’ train rides he goes on.  The speech he gave at his coronation didn’t seem to come from a man whose family has been pretty much running the country since independence (except for a few commercial breaks in between). It was more like a speech given by a naive, sanctimonious character in a movie who ascends to power and then proceeds to lecture the villainous establishment on the advantages of virtue.

Narendra Modi likes to present himself as a larger-than-life leader with the ability to appear everywhere via hologram allowing himself to solve every problem in the country simultaneously. The false back-story he pretends is part of his non-existent folksy charm is that he’s a simple man who reluctantly took on the task of leading the state government - because he was a good soldier of his party - and then proceeded to make the state the economic powerhouse it is today. Who even cares that he is a vindictive megalomaniac possessing disdain for democratic norms who won’t let anyone stand in the way of his ultimate goal because development, development and development?

So that’s your choice, India. It’s either going to be a nincompoop scion who will get played more times than an air guitar at a Brayan Adams concert or a polished propagandist who has successfully papered over his machiavellian rise to glory. And even though both of them want to be Prime Minister real bad, they’ll act as if they’re only taking up the position in the ‘service for the country’ because the first rule of a Prime Ministerial campaign is that you don’t talk about your Prime Ministerial campaign. In fact, they’re going to act like they’re doing us a favour! How noble! We are indeed quite lucky to have such leaders who would scuttle their personal ambition for the welfare of others and become the second most powerful person in the country.

The most powerful being, of course, the host of Times Newshour.

* * *

Meanwhile, somewhere in Gandhinagar, a smug, bearded man sat alone in his house watching teevee. He saw this pip of a boy giving a speech. They think this young whippersnapper can take him? This is going to be easier than he thought. Normally, the bearded man didn’t allow himself to feel any emotion, but today, he let half a smile appear on his face. This was a special moment in his life and he would always cherish it, even though he was sharing it with no one else but the cold wind coming in from the open window. Today was the first day of the rest of his glorious life.

No one could stop him now.

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