India, my motherland, has a lot of criminal politicians. That is not news.
For example, a quick Google search under “India criminal politicians” would immediate show a Wikipedia site with names of Indian politicians convicted of crimes. Some of these are big-name politicians, such as Lalu Prasad Yadav. A click on his name would show that he was the chief minister of the Hindi-speaking state of Bihar, and was a major power-broker in national politics, and also a powerful railway minister of India. But on October 3 of 2013, he was given a court sentence of five years of rigorous imprisonment and 25 lakh (US$42,000) fine for his role in the Fodder Scam. He was a member of a so-called low caste, and played caste politics big time.
Lalu Prasad is one of the rare, big-name Indian politicians that actually was punished for a handful of his many crimes, and served a jail sentence for some time. Some argued that had he not been low caste, his fate would not have sunk low so quickly. But he is now out of prison, and back into politics. Chances are, in five or ten years, he will rise again. Nobody knows.
You can do your own Google search under various key words. I’d let you do it, instead of taking my word for it.
Here I’m going to talk about a new variety of Indian politicians that came from the movie world. In India, traditionally, the southern state of Tamil Nadu with its regional, Tamil-language and region-based parties elected noted film stars as members of the national parliament. When I grew up in the sixties and seventies, I always heard the name of M. G. Ramachandran of the DMK party, who became the chief minister of the state and bemused us with his always-sunglass-covered eyes and strange, confusing political statements. Then, we heard the name of N. T. Rama Rao of Telugu-speaking Andhra Pradesh, who also came from the movie world, and became the chief minister of the southern state, and also made many idiosyncratic statements, border-lining stupidity. We, the politically savvy Bengalis from Calcutta always wondered why in the world did the people elect them to be the architects of their destiny?
But Bengal, and most of India, was free of such apparent nonsense.
Recently, in the May parliamentary elections, West Bengal for the first time elected a whole bunch of movie stars — to represent at least one million people from each of their constituencies. Most of these electoral constituencies are rural, and therefore, a very high number of the people who elected them are extremely poor. And illiterate too. At least, it was obvious the way they voted for these out-of-touch, elite, filthy rich film stars as their leaders clearly show they didn’t have any political knowledge or awareness about the lack of political knowledge and awareness of these celebrity candidates.
These film stars included Tapas Pal, Shatabdi Ray, Moonmoon Sen, Sandhya Ray, and Dev. The last three were never involved in politics, but chose to run because Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of West Bengal, asked them to run. During the election campaign, they made stupid statements, showed their extreme ignorance and apathy about the Indian people and politics, and did not come out in the fierce May heat when Bengal’s temperature shot up to 100-105 F. They only campaigned out of their air-conditioned cars, and later in the evenings. Then, they retreated back to their makeshift A/C lodges.
Tapas Pal and Shatabdi Ray ran for the second time. During the first five years of their tenure, those one-million-plus poor people who had elected them practically never got to see them. They returned for a second time, made many stupid comments during their campaigns, and more.
They all won landslide elections.
But Tapas Pal did much more.
Recently, phone-recorded videos surfaced that Mr. Pal, once a soft-spoken, mild-mannered hero, screamed at various villages and small towns of his Krishna Nagar constituency, asking his supporters to take violent revenge against workers of the opposition party. He was caught on camera challenging his supporters to go out and kill opposition workers. Then, he was also caught saying that he himself carried a gun, and was himself capable of killing.
Finally, he was caught on camera screaming that he was now asking his party workers to go into the villages and homes of opposition parties, and rape their women.
Even by the Indian standard, where some politicians are convicted of major crimes and many others commit major crimes but are never convicted, this one created a new low.
But guess what? Neither the West Bengal administration, nor his own ruling party with its firebrand, woman chief minister Mamata Banerjee, did anything to punish him for his criminal remarks. They asked for his written apology, accepted it, and said that would be the end of the matter.
No criminal prosecution, or even an attempt to do it, for his absolutely criminal activities.
But, under the administration’s instructions, West Bengal police are now frantically searching for those who taped his speeches and handed the tapes over to the media.
This is today’s India. Worse, this is today’s West Bengal — my country, my state.
Once I felt proud to be from there.
Footnote: After some of his vitriolic speeches, his party workers actually went into villages, and killed workers and family members of the opposition party. I do not support the opposition party either, but that’s beyond the point here.
You decide how you want to read about this latest development, and what to do about it.
With a numb mind, a numb brain, and a numb heart,
Brooklyn, New York