Running to standstill
Someone tell Barack Obama’s PR machine to stop. The whole world knows he is most awesome. Ok, so he authorised the killing of Somalian pirates and his Af-Pak policy doesn’t look like it’s working out so well. This doesn’t mean there is any need to release adorable pictures like the one below. We have not forgotten that he is cute and we – especially us Indians who have L.K. Advani being dangled before us as a prime ministerial candidate – are well aware that the world needs more heads of state who can do a Baywatch-worthy run while wearing a suit. Sigh.
One could argue, of course, that it is a good thing that we don’t have a hot Prime Minister in the running because it really wouldn’t do for this nation to be distracted from the many issues at hand thanks to a tsunami of hormones. I mean, we voted in Rajiv Gandhi because he tugged at heartstrings. To quote my grand aunt, “such a sweet smile he has, that poor motherless boy” and the jury’s out on just how good a decision that was. Sri Lanka, for example, might have some words for us. But then, having ugly politicians has not really helped India. If anything, these hideous looking people may have actually served to numb people so that nothing matters to them anymore. We’ve had to deal with having Chandra Shekhar and H.D. Deve Gowda as our Prime Ministers; how much worse can it get? (I present to you Mayawati.) This election, however, it seems as though everyone has woken up or so claims every media channel and newspaper. The middle class has risen, we are told. They are standing for elections, they will show up to vote, they will change the world. Never mind the fact that the English-speaking middle class India that everyone’s exulting about is a very small minority within the billion-plus population or even within the 714 million registered voters. More problematic is the fact that this newly-risen group doesn’t seem to have the faintest idea of what they’re doing or voting for.
Milind Deora, the bright young thing of the Congress party and a South Mumbai candidate, has parties thrown for him by senior bankers who have not lost their jobs as part of his electoral campaign. This is good news for all those invited to his parties, provided they stick to the cocktails and don’t ask him about what fiscal measures his party will enact in face of the recession or who his party’s Prime Ministerial candidate is going to be. I’ve had 5 emails from unconnected people telling me to vote for the independant candidate Meera Sanyal, who has been showing up at Sindhi gatherings in south Mumbai and other such social events as part of her electoral campaign. She is promising better roads and sewage to the neighbourhood, which is very sweet of her but rather short-sighted given she’s running for a seat in the national parliament and not the local municipality. Should she be elected, her responsibility in New Delhi is not to build roads in Mumbai (that’s the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s task) but to take a stand on issues of national importance, like the economy, terrorism and national security. What her stance is on these topics, no one knows. On the opposite end of the scale, you have Shashi Tharoor, who is a Congress party candidate in this election. Born in London, educated in Mumbai, Kolkata and New Delhi; running for a seat in the parliament from… Thiruvananthapuram. His career in the United Nations is outstanding, he is an award-winning author and has lived in New York for the better part of the past 20 years. Just the kind of background one needs to represent Thiruvananthapuram in the Indian parliament, naturally. Other prominent candidates include Narendra Modi, an able administrator in Gujarat with just that slight problem of being a fascist as well. There are those who will point out that he only paraded his fascism once, seven years ago. Since then, there haven’t been any riots in Gujarat and it’s been a stable home for both Reliance and Tata. Whoopee. And let’s not forget Varun Gandhi who is in jail for talking prejudice-ridden bollocks. He was in the same kindergarten as me and apparently I beat him up as a kid, thus earning my mum a talking-to from the Principal (true to Delhi fashion, the school objected not to me indulging in mindless violence but to the fact that I’d beaten up a younger kid). Go me!
Less than 24 hours before the elections kick off in India, I confess I’m relieved that I’m not one of the 700 million registered voters in the country. While my mother has three election identity cards (thus allowing her to vote three times in New Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata), I haven’t been able to convince the genial chaps at Bandra police station that I exist despite the fact that I have no permanent address. Every ID of mine offers a different “permanent” address and they’re all invalid now. Even though I’ve lived in India for most of my life, I haven’t lived anywhere long enough to officially belong there. Consequently, I can’t have a voter’s ID. This should upset me because I’m being told by every possible media that it is my responsibility to vote, which it is. But whose responsibility is it to present me with credible choices for that vote? Was it Dr. Ambedkar’s when he drafted a constitution with the tenet of universal human suffrage even though most of the humans in that universe would for generations be illiterate and often easily swayed/ threatened into voting for low lifes? Or perhaps we can blame it on the first politician who decided that it made pragmatic sense to put up the local hoodlum as an electoral candidate because it increased a political party’s persuading power? Or, I could just blame me. I could have lied to someone and/or bribed someone, got myself a voter ID, thrown caution to the winds and stood as an independant candidate. It wouldn’t be as pointless as not voting at all; unless, of course, absolutely no one voted for me.