FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Great Indian Rope Trick

The soles of his feet were cracked like the soil in barren fields. He sat idly and drank khus sherbet. There weren’t any files spread before him. He was doing no work, only shaking his legs in that nervous frenzied manner of people in power who have to sit with others.

This was in the executive class on a private airline. It was before the Congress party told its ministers that they had to go on an austerity drive and travel economy. Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar reacted by saying there would be no space to do any work.

Why has there been such a black and white reaction to this move? Was it because two ministers started staying at luxury hotels while their government bungalows were being ‘done up’? S.M.Krishna and former UN man Shashi Tharoor claim they did not use the tax-payer’s money; the latter in his now patented fashion is throwing the “I am paying the bills from my own savings after a lifetime of international work” line.

His little tweets have made him into a five-star martyr to become a part of knee-jerk legend. In one he said he would definitely travel in ‘cattle class out of solidarity with all our holy cows’. Naturally, those who think life revolves around conveying their daily stories in small doses find it, and him, cute. The arrogance of this kind of Indian politician mirrors the same feudal mentality that upstart urbanites accuse the country bumpkins of.

The primary reason is that our society follows the “Dilli Chalo” (onward to Delhi) credo to sanctify the power of central leadership and fake cohesiveness. Our slogans have moved from “Jai Jawaan, Jai Kisaan” (Hail the solider and the farmer) to “Garibi hatao” (Banish poverty) to “India Shining”. While India was shining, farmers were committing suicide as they are now. Getting ministers to give 20 percent of their wages for drought-affected regions is simplistic. The salaries of ministers are not known to be high. They earn more through perks – for fuel, phones, travel. There is also the larger issue of corruption. Granting licences for large projects to certain firms is part of the money-making deal that keeps the political machinery lubricated.

The current move is not about hypocrisy but hyperbole. And who better fits the slot of abstinence than the father of the nation? Lalu Prasad Yadav said, “Mahatma Gandhi always preferred to travel in third class compartments… and remained frugal throughout his life.”

If there is anyone who made poverty look like a million bucks, then it was Gandhi. The land of nabobs became the land of the half-naked fakir. The Birlas played host to him not because he drank goat’s milk but because he said, “India must protect her primary industries even as a mother protects her children against the whole world without being hostile to it.”

This is the brand of selective socialism that is being replayed today, not the fashionable Nehruvian model which was about how to do a Lenin by wearing mink. It is corporatisation of spiritualism. Anyone with a begging bowl of empty dreams can head a start-up venture of couture abstemiousness.

The idea of droughts and famines do not merely fan such high thinking among politicians but intellectuals, too. Remember Amartya Sen’s facile belief that, “… famines have never afflicted any country that is independent, that goes to elections, that has opposition parties to voice criticisms, that permits newspapers to report freely and to question government policies without extensive censorship”?

Simply speaking, we would be talking about socially and economically wealthy societies. Forget famines. What about other problems that beset a country like India? We have democracy, why then does Prof. Sen subscribe to state intervention? He had concurred that the role of the state even in matters of nutrition, health, education, social insurance was connected with the outcome of economic processes, which must empower people to become economic agents in their own right.

Here was a clear case of making both sides happy without giving a thought to the fact that state intervention can never empower people; it only results in dependency if not degradation. Perhaps, that suits the purpose. As he once stated, “Buddha was asking himself what kind of life is that (of illness, old age, mortality)? These are problems we all face. For many of us it is also the impetus for our work.”

The concern about rural India’s suffering arises only when it affects the middle class and the rich. Food, a basic need, is in short supply. An India that is now being sold Quaker Oats by an organisation of heart cure is willing to exaggerate its misery. Where are our irrigation plants? What happens to the families of farmers? How many people are moving to other towns and cities? Have these aspects been considered? Sonia Gandhi takes a flight with the plebs. As a symbol it might work, but only for a limited audience.

Once the flight touches ground, there will be a fleet of security vehicles. The person in the street does not care. It will, however, result in more corruption. The corporate sector that has thrived due to political munificence will be happy to help. They will not go quietly and do something in the villages where they have set up factories; they already think they have done the country a huge favour by providing employment opportunities. Labour is cheap. Instead, they will provide facilities to ministers, and since many of their kind have got into the fray it will be easy. They talk the same language and suffer from the same gilt-edged greed.

Does anyone talk about austerity for them when they are in fact sponging on the shareholder’s money? Was there any talk about austerity when villagers were driven out of the leftist state to facilitate factories to produce a low-cost car for the city dweller – a car that would clearly point out the difference between the rich and the ones who would never get there?

We condescendingly let Lalu, our rustic politician, join the cavalcade of management geeks to give lectures at Harvard and Wharton. The gallery applauds as they would when they watch a comic act or an acrobat. He senses that. Years of having been marginalised have taught him lessons in hypocrisy, stereotypes, and expectations. He plays their game. He too starts quoting Gandhi even as he made money from kickbacks from cow food. How much more hick town can anyone get?

Sleepy Communism has joined ranks, clinking glasses of Old Monk and belting out the angst of foreign rebellion in the voices of Ginsberg and Che, driving kitsch up the Warhol wall. Poor India has today become a parody of its own poverty.

FARZANA VERSEY is a Mumbai-based columnist and author of A Journey Interrupted: Being Indian in Pakistan, Harper Collins, India. She can be reached at kaaghaz.kalam@gmail.com

 

More articles by:

Farzana Versey can be reached at Cross Connections

August 12, 2020
Melvin Goodman
Trump’s War On Arms Control and Disarmament
P. Sainath
“We Didn’t Bleed Him Enough”: When Normal is the Problem
Riva Enteen
Kamala Harris? Really? Desperate Times, Desperate Measures
Kenneth Surin
The Decrepit UK Political System
Robert Hunziker
Freakish Arctic Fires Alarmingly Intensify
Ramzy Baroud
The Likud Conspiracy: Israel in the Throes of a Major Political Crisis
Sam Pizzigati
Within Health Care USA, Risk and Reward Have Never Been More Out of Kilter
John Perry
The US Contracts Out Its Regime Change Operation in Nicaragua
Binoy Kampmark
Selective Maritime Rules: The United States, Diego Garcia and International Law
Manuel García, Jr.
The Improbability of CO2 Removal From the Atmosphere
Khury Petersen-Smith
The Road to Portland: The Two Decades of ‘Homeland Security’
Raouf Halaby
Teaching Palestinian Children to Love Beethoven, Bizet, and Mozart is a Threat to a Depraved Israeli Society
Jeff Mackler
Which Way for Today’s Mass Radicalization? Capitalism’s Impending Catastrophe…or a Socialist Future
Tom Engelhardt
It Could Have Been Different
Stephen Cooper
Santa Davis and the “Stalag 17” Riddim
August 11, 2020
Richard D. Wolff
Why Capitalism is in Constant Conflict With Democracy
Paul Street
Defund Fascism, Blue and Orange
Richard C. Gross
Americans Scorned
Andrew Levine
Trump and Biden, Two Ignoble Minds Here O’erthrown
Patrick Cockburn
The Rise of Nationalism Has Led to the Increased Repression of Minorities
Sonali Kolhatkar
Trump’s Presidency is a Death Cult
Colin Todhunter
Pushing GMO Crops into India: Experts Debunk High-Level Claims of Bt Cotton Success
Valerie Croft
How Indigenous Peoples are Using Ancestral Organizing Practices to Fight Mining Corporations and Covid-19
David Rovics
Tear Gas Ted Has a Tantrum in Portland
Dean Baker
There is No Evidence That Generous Unemployment Benefits are Making It Difficult to Find Workers
Robert Fantina
War on Truth: How Kashmir Struggles for Freedom of Press
Dave Lindorff
Trump Launches Attack on Social Security and Medicare
Elizabeth Schmidt
COVID-19 Poses a Huge Threat to Stability in Africa
Parth M.N.
Coping With a Deadly Virus, a Social One, Too
Thomas Knapp
The “Election Interference” Fearmongers Think You’re Stupid
Binoy Kampmark
Mealy-Mouthed Universities: Academic Freedom and the Pavlou Problem Down Under
Mike Garrity
Emperor Trump Loses Again in the Northern Rockies in Big Win for Bull Trout, Rivers and the ESA
Alex Lawson
34 Attorneys General Call to Bust Gilead’s Pharma Monopoly on COVID Treatment Remdesivir
August 10, 2020
Gerald Sussman
Biden’s Ukrainegate Problem
Vijay Prashad – Érika Ortega Sanoja
How the U.S. Failed at Its Foreign Policy Toward Venezuela
Daniel Warner
Geneva: The Home of Lost Causes
Mike Hastie
The Police Force Stampede in Portland on August 8, 2020 
Jack Rasmus
Trump’s Executive Orders: EOs as PR and FUs
Rev. William Alberts
Cognitive Without Conscience
David Altheide
Politicizing Fear Through the News Media
F. Douglas Stephenson
Is Big Pharma More Interested in Profiteering Than Protecting Us From Coronavirus?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Money Plague
Howard Lisnoff
Revolutionaries Living in a System of Growing Fascism
Ralph Nader
Donald Trump is Defeating Himself
Lynnette Grey Bull
The Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women Human Rights Emergency is Not a Photo-Op for Ivanka Trump
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail