“[My election campaign] is like getting raped … you can shout or you can enjoy”. — Dev, film-star candidate from India. March 24, 2014.
Another Five-Year Fun Comes to India. Can we think democracy differently?
Every time I talk to someone about politics – whether in India or USA – I see strange apathy. I see fear and frustration about political leaders, candidates and ministers.
You talk to the ordinary Jo Blo or Jane Doe in the U.S., or Aam Aadmi or Kuppan Suppan in India, about elections. What response do you get?
“Oh, they’re all the same. All corrupt and crooks. Except for a few and far between.” This is the general consensus.
Yet, in just a month, millions of men and women will line up, in glee and glamour, to vote at their neighborhood polling booths. In big cities and small towns, in prosperous villages and remote countryside.
In this South Asian festival, unlike USA’s maximum thirty or forty percent, an unbelievably high number of ordinary folks will come out and vote. The election will decide the fate of 1.2 billion people.
Monsanto Farmer Suicides
In party- and festival-full India, a national election is the biggest festival. It’s the biggest yajna that even Ram or Judhisthira could not have imagined. In this yajna, saints and rishis and imams and cardinals from various corners would declare their sermons. Old and new stars –film and cricket stars included – would show up in public and bless their voters with rich looks and gorgeous voices. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, Assam to Gujarat, street microphones and TV screens would blare the vote call, amplify to glorify this five-year fun. Dinner tables and drawing rooms would spill vote storms over tea cups and beer mugs.
Never-ending promises and pledges would drop from the sky like the relentless showers in Cherapunji.
Then, even before the ink on your finger dries up, promises and pledges would dry up like magic. You and your family and children would find yourselves in exactly the same situation you were in before. Frustrated and annoyed. There is terrible inflation and sky-high prices of all essential items. Corrupt promoters and their mafia are ruling the streets, and polluting the Indian sky and rivers like crazy. Unemployment drives poor people out of their villages into the cities, to toil like slaves. Violence on women is out of control. Slow, sluggish work environment in offices and courts. Major crisis in health, education and transportation. And God forbid, unchecked, unstopped violence and terrorism.
Expert opinions would jam up your ears explaining away the reasons for administrative failures. One political party would slander the other, back and forth. Isn’t this what we’ve seen all our lives?
One Percent vs. 99 Percent
Do we have any way to get out of this dead-end alley, in this life? I keep speaking about it at whatever forum I get anywhere in the world – left, right or center.
In fact, to me, left and right do not have any more meaning. The divide is artificial and purposeful. The real struggle, as Occupy Wall Street would point out, is the conflict between the one percent (people in political, social and economic power) and the 99 percent (ordinary people like us who do not have those powers). That is how the vote debate should be framed.
Of course, in this neoliberal, globalized era, debate itself has become outdated. In this era, nobody wants to be unhappy by debating. Acceptance makes us happy. Like, here in America, if you ask somebody, “Ha-ya doin’?” The immediate response would be, “Doin’ great, man!” In my three decades of living in the U.S., I’ve never heard anybody saying, “Honestly, I’m not doing so well, and here is why.” Nobody wants to admit any problems, mention anything unhappy.
The neoliberal social model works truly great for the one percent.
Democracy or Plutocracy?
This is not democracy. This system keeps the one percent, the rich, mighty and powerful, happy. It keeps the status quo for them – to take advantage of our powerlessness, economic vulnerability and fears of losing the little we have. We keep satisfying the profit machines of the powerful, in return of small compensations. And we pretend we are happy with that small change compared to the billions they make, out of our lifelong labor.
But, we keep fighting among ourselves deciding who is left and who is right, which party is going to get how many seats in which state or city. We get sucked in with expert predictions and exit polls. We fight over religions and castes. Some of us even bet on our favorite candidates or fronts. Just like a football or cricket match where spectators are fighting over their team and players, when the players and team owners are eating the cream, only leaving the crumbs behind for us.
I don’t know about you. But I have seen it happening all my life.
One national alliance is riddled with extreme corruption, monarchy-like rule, and pathetic incompetency. The other national alliance is well-known for their feudalism, chauvinism, and communal politics. If one regional or state party is infamous for its idiosyncratic, autocratic leader with loose-cannon talks, the other party has been talking violence or of taking over neighboring countries. Many have their underground money, muscle and mafia – ones that keep us the 99 percent in perpetual fear. For them, there is elite police or protection. For you and me, there is none.
IMF, World Bank, Wall Street and Dalal Street keep putting more pressure on you, me and the 99 percent through their insider connections and policy changes. And we don’t even know it.
Yet, even in this dark, dismal, depressing environment, strong pro-99-percent movements are taking India by storm. We’ve seen Jay Prakash Narayan before. We’re now seeing Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal, and some others who’re challenging the status quo from the grassroots level. In recent years, India has given rise to Medha Patkar, Arundhati Roy, Vandana Shiva and many other peoples’ leaders and organizations who have made remarkable progress to empower the ordinary. In Delhi and West Bengal, watershed grassroots movements to protest against rapes and barbarism on women happened. Minorities from Dalit and tribal communities have forged solidarity.
Future India: Collaborative Leadership
Indians, especially today’s young men and women, do not want corruption or inept dynastic “leaders” on one hand, or violent, misogynistic, communal politicians on the other. Young India is smart and informed. The new generation knows the difference between intelligence and idiosyncrasy, knowledge and naivete. Young people in India believe in gender, religion and caste equality, modernity, and equal distribution of prosperity.
Unless we elect candidates who would show their profound understanding about this new, aspiring India, and collaboratively lead to fulfill these aspirations, India through another five-year vote-festivity would spiral back into the same cycle of mediocrity, inequality, feudalism and violence.
It is time we must come out of our archaic, leftist-rightist boxes, find common values and goals, and forge a broad-based coalition of the 99 percent – a rainbow coalition of the ordinary and honest working men, women and families.
Only if we strengthen our commonalities and build bridges, India can usher in a new, modern era of progress and prosperity for all, and be a real, recognizable power in this global economy.
I challenge you on it.
With Absolutely Honesty, Sharing My Pains and Hopes With You,
Brooklyn, New York