CLOWNIFICATION OF INDIAN POLITICS
Eunuchs have a unique, though unenviable, position in Indian society. Deprived of participation in a normal way in any social activity, eunuchs dance and bless the newly-weds and the new-born babies of almost every community. Their songs and dances normally lack grace and are often just clownish imitations of Bollywood song and dance sequences. For most Indians the word Eunuch conveys all sorts of funny connotations but never anything serious. So, the election of an eunuch named Shabnam to Legislative Assembly of Madhya Pradesh came as a surprise. The more serious fact was that this was not an isolated incident. A few weeks back another eunuch had got elected as Mayor of Katni and some more eunuchs had been successful in municipal corporation elections of Madhya Pradesh. This seems to be a part of the larger phenomenon which can best be described as clownification of Indian politics. A stage has come in Indian politics when elections have become a big joke; political parties and leaders are seen as entertainers; and political rallies, meetings etc. provide comic entertainment to all and sundry. Laloo and Shabnam are products of this phenomenon that needs to be understood.
Politics in pre-independence India was based on struggle, suffering and self-sacrifice. Anybody entering politics did so at a great personal cost and hence, he was held in great regard and no questions were raised about his capabilities, talent and qualifications. Indian politics went through a drastic metamorphosis after independence. The ones who had suffered in jails and were brutally caned by the police, became the rulers. Post-independence politics did not need struggle, suffering and self-sacrifice. Vision, talent, intellectual abilities and management expertise were the need of the hour. It would have been appropriate for the pre-independence generation of politicians to understand and accept their own shortcomings and pave the way for a new generation of more capable and talented politicians. This would indeed have been the ultimate self-sacrifice of the generation that fought the freedom struggle. Instead, that generation of politicians chose hypocrisy and deception. On one hand they devoted themselves wholeheartedly to reaping the privileges, benefits and perquisites of power as well as to accumulating personal wealth; while on the other hand they continued delivering long sermons about struggle, suffering and self-sacrifice to the poor masses.
In any stable independent country, the primary purpose of political activity is to prepare and project talented capable individuals for effective governance, administration and management of the country. Generally speaking there is no need for struggle, suffering and self-sacrifice on the part of the political class in a stable democratic country. Both the ruling party and the opposition enjoy some privileges, benefits and perquisites. In return they provide the country with capable and talented leadership, management and administration. However, the politician in India has emerged as a creature who enjoys all the trappings of power but can neither provide good leadership nor be a good manager. For all that he gets from the society, he gives back only some attractive slogans and speeches that are nothing more than a skilled jugglery of words. Marx said that religion is the opium of the masses, but in modern day India the political leaders provide the opium to the masses in abundant quantity through their comic verbal gimmickry. In the past five decades India has seen a large number of wizards of the spoken word who have made not just audiences but the whole country dance to their tune.
Congress played a key role in the Freedom struggle, so it was natural that Congress becomes the most important player in the post-independence era. The con-game of using hollow grand-sounding words without any intellectual conviction and without any action plan was started by Congress leaders who perfected the art by combining verbal gimmickry with adept use of graphic symbolism. Examples of this were Jawahar Lal Nehru's love for children, red rose on Nehru's jacket, Indira Gandhi's slogan for removing poverty, Indira's peculiar style of covering her head with her saree (now being copied by her daughter-in-law). The examples set by the top leaders were dutifully followed by the junior rank and file of the Congress party. The net result was that anyone who could master this con-game of fooling and entertaining masses was called a leader and no other talent or ability or qualification was expected of him.
Bharatiya Jansangh started with a different ideological orientation in Indian politics. However, on the road from Jansangh to BJP to becoming a ruling party, the original ideological orientation has got substantially diluted if not lost altogether. There is one more important difference that has come about. It was a peculiarity of Jansangh that it used to make genuine attempts to attract talented and capable persons. Jansangh is credited with appointing a well known scholar (Dr. Raghubir) as it's National President. Attracting the best talent and offering them opportunities for growth and recognition was a unique distinguishing feature of Jansangh. As time progressed, this feature was lost and today's BJP has hardly any place for talent and capability.
Nehru-Indira tradition of verbal witchcraft has been carried forward by Atalbihari Vajpayee. It can be said without even an iota of doubt that there is no one in the present political scenario who can match Atalbihari's skills at use of words. He is a master orator who draws people from far and wild to his public meetings. During any public meeting of Atalbihari, the audience gets a good mixture of emotions, humor, satire and ideals - all thrown together in good measure to make a potent mix which is enjoyable and leaves a good aftertaste. Millions who come drawn to his meetings go back satisfied that they have got full value for their efforts. The ability of Atalbihari Vajpayee to hold and entertain audiences has, on one hand, overshadowed his other qualities and abilities; while on the other hand, has forced the complete Bharatiya Janata party and to a certain extent Sangh Parivar to prostrate before Atalji, keeping aside all their ideals and ideology. This phenomenon is not confined to just the Prime Minister. At each state and district level, some people have emerged who are experts at the art of verbal gimmickry. These rabble-rousers are ready to go to any extent to get a good applause. Limits of decency or political ethics are meaningless words for these professional entertainers who can measure success only in terms of size of crowds. The pity is that the party who calls itself ideological heir of Jansangh has become a prisoner of these rabble-rousers and their sycophants.
Whether it be the Congress or BJP or any other Indian political party, the fact is that without any exceptions each of them is a collection of such rabble-rousers, entertainers and their sycophants. The common man in India believes that a politician is such a mentally, intellectually and morally bankrupt person who can either deliver lofty speeches or lick the feet of someone who can deliver lofty speeches. There is no other expectation from a politician. Each political party has contributed its mite in strengthening this view about politicians. There are innumerable examples of loyalty of even dumb, stupid, idiots being rewarded by appointment to high posts. Examples can be given when a ruling party leader got his barber nominated as a member of an advisory committee of a department or of drivers and personal servants being given party tickets for election to municipal corporation or legislature or even parliament. This state of anomie has naturally led the people to lose all faith, trust and belief in political parties and politicians. (anomie means "lack of social and ethical standards and norms")
The loss of faith, trust and credibility makes political speeches a farce and a political leader is reduced to being a clown or a buffoon. Elections become competition between buffoons where the one who entertains the most has the best chances of winning. Initially the competition was restricted to politicians who in their quest for more and more popularity adopted more and more of buffoonery. Laloo Yadav started his political career as a student leader but he adopted the clownish ways so well that no other politician is any match to him. The clownification of politics has led professional actors, actresses, clowns and other sundry entertainers to be attracted to politics. Politicians have welcomed them with open arms and senior positions thereby further strengthening the process of clownification.
Election of eunuchs to legislative bodies is a reflection of the level of clownification of Indian politics. Some observers have remarked that this represents the empowerment of weaker sections and the strengthening of democracy in India. It is clear that such observers understand neither democracy nor empowerment. Shabnam and Kamla (the elected eunuchs) come with no ideological background; they have no agenda; they neither have any leadership qualities nor have the will to lead the society towards any direction. Shabnam and Kamla are pure entertainers who can sing, dance and bless without any hypocrisy or deception. They do not deliver long hollow sermons about ideals and morals. They entertain and bless all with best wishes and without any discrimination. Obviously poor politician, who can neither entertain nor bless very well, is no match for Shabnam and Kamla.
Yet, there is a bright side to this dark picture. The election of eunuchs represents the ultimate in clownification of politics. The darkest hours of night are the ones that are closest to sunrise. Let us pray and hope for a bright sunrise in this dark hour of the largest democracy of the world.
16th March, 2000
Please write to me your comments about the above article.
ANIL CHAWLA is an engineer by qualification but a philosopher by vocation and a management consultant by profession.
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