The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything. Joseph Stalin.
If you are a responsible citizen who believes in the democratic process and who takes pride in voting governments in and governments out, depending on their performance during their tenure in power, take a bow. Always assuming that you are one of those, irrespective of age, who will make that journey to the nearest election booth, stand in a long, sweltering line, wear some species of headgear to ward off sunstroke, cast your ballot and come out of the school or college which happened to be your voting venue, stick your almost indelible, clumsily ink-smudged digit up in the air, your face wreathed in a broad smile, for all the world to see what a good boy or girl you have been. Some of the younger smart alecks rudely show their middle finger, as if to say ‘this is what we think of the whole rigmarole.’ If you happen to be close to or above a hundred years old, you can bet your bottom rupee some television news channel or the other will push its camera into your benign, crinkled face and ask you who you voted for and why. Of course, your 75-year-old son and 69-year-old daughter-in-law will be on hand to ensure you are steady on your feet, provided they themselves are steady on theirs.
Leading newspapers will carry the centenarian’s mug shot next morning in the city pages. If he is still standing after all the exertion, he can lie back at home in his comfortable armchair and enjoy a refreshing cup of tea, secure in the knowledge that he has done his bounden duty as a citizen of his country. And wait anxiously in front of his idiot box to see himself on television. WhatsApp messages zinging to and fro. ‘Just saw Uncle Ram on NDTV. Wow, that is so cool!’ We place our trust every five years on a particular political party, either at the state or centre and trust to God they will deliver. Man proposes, God disposes. Alas and alack, not too well! The bar is lowered every five years.
My contemplation here is not so much to analyze the respective merits or demerits of different political parties and how they are likely to fare at the hustings. There are enough experts doing that on a daily basis, firmly tilting to one side or the other of the political divide. I am more concerned with the entire process of elections, at the national or state level, and what we citizens can look forward to, to entertain us during the weeks that precede these elections. At the end of the day, that is all it is, some harmless time pass entertainment. The results themselves are quite incidental. As to why I have chosen this particular juncture to write on this subject should be clear enough to the meanest intelligence. Two very important state elections are just round the corner in India. I am, of course, talking about Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. And before you can say Narendra Modi, the mega circus of them all, India’s general elections will be at our doorstep, or rather, on our television screens and dailies. Even now, the newspapers are full of double-spread adverts from the concerned political parties, particularly those with very deep pockets, extolling their virtues and all that they have accomplished and promise to do so if elected or returned to power. Television commercials are even more fulsome, supported by a soaring, emotional music soundtrack and moving images of our leaders that rarely move those who will trudge to the ballot boxes. The news channels do not lag behind when it comes to advertising. I was startled early one morning when I turned the first page of my newspaper. There she was, adorning the entire full page, the doughty Navika Kumar of Times Now, bearing all 32 in a seductive smile. A bit unnerving at six in the morning.
Psephologists and party apparatchiks will hold forth through our home screens. Pro-incumbency, anti-incumbency, pre-polls, post-polls, plenty of graphics and numbers will fill our screens, and the one singular quality all the presentations will possess is one of utter confusion. Clarity will be a major casualty. The Congress chap will smugly announce that they have inside information that they are winning by a landslide. The hyper-kinetic lady from AAP will rubbish the Congress claim with a smug riposte, ‘in your dreams.’ Finally, the heavyweight from BJP will steamroll everyone else while invoking PM Modiji’s name at least 27 times during his stormy, concluding peroration. The anchors will add to the mayhem. It is infinitely wiser to wait for the final results. Advertising revenues of the channels will climb exponentially during these pre-election shows. And why not? They are working night and day to keep us abreast of VIPs from the world of corporate India, the film world, sports stars and of course, the politicians who came to vote. Let the TV channels and newspapers make some moolah during these straitened times. We should not begrudge them that.
Speaking for myself, I find the whole election tamasha a continuous entertainment platform, what with all the speculation, the suspense, the research numbers which the politicians will refute or approve depending on which way the wind is blowing. Not to mention the television anchors whose own biases become more than apparent as they attempt to control the ‘debates’ this way and that.
That is all very well, but what about those death-trap potholes that pockmark our roads? What are you politicians doing about them? We are talking about the garden city (that’s a laugh) that is Bengaluru. I live there. ‘Don’t worry about the potholes,’ the powers-that-be assure us. ‘We are patching them up in double quick time. What is more, we are giving you a spanking new, state-of-the-art airport terminal that will be the pride of India. Not to mention the gigantic statue of Kempegowda, the founder of Bengaluru as you approach the airport. What more do you want?’ Patchwork solutions that will barely last the duration of the PM’s inauguration of the new airport terminal. The late, lamented cartoonist, R.K. Laxman’s fabled ‘common man’ is bound to be wearing his endearingly puzzled mien, asking himself, ‘I have never even seen the inside of an airport, never mind spanking new terminals. What good is that to me if I have to navigate my two-wheeler through intolerable traffic jams and craters the size of swimming pools? But I am happy about the statue. Will take a bus ride to the airport, stand in front of the bronze marvel with the good wife and take a selfie.’
The election jamboree is a great relief from the daily tedium of scandals, court cases, murders, corporate honchos being brought to book, more court cases etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. I prefer to spell those words out fully in preference to the untidy ‘etc.’ I am inspired by Yul Brynner’s reverberating throwaway line in The King and I. And speaking of murders, the recent case of a lunatic who hacked his girlfriend into 35 pieces, kept the remains in his refrigerator for a while and finally scattered them to the four winds in a nearby wooded area, caught the prurient and ghoulish imagination of the newscasters and, I daresay, half the nation as well. Film producers around the country are already spitting on their palms and rubbing their hands in glee, while scouting for a script and screenplay writer who can come up in double quick time with the goods. In short, if you are a disinterested viewer, who couldn’t care less about which party finally wins a particular election, then you can sit back and enjoy the fun. Rather like watching England play Australia in a cricket international. From an Indian perspective, you enjoy the game irrespective of who wins or loses. Which, I need hardly tell you, is never the case if we are taking on Pakistan.
At the end of the day, there is a smidgen of sense in the ruling dispensation wanting to open a dialogue on the merits of holding state and central elections at the same time. The thinking seems to be, let us get this thing over and done with in one fell swoop, post which the states and the centre can get on with the business of governing. Otherwise, the country seems to be beset with a never-ending shenanigan of some kind of election or the other happening all over the country throughout the year, leaving politicians with no time to repair roads and improve infrastructure. Their sole preoccupation has been with how to survive in politics and stay in power. The opposition, true to its name and calling, will oppose this idea tooth and nail, on the premise that such a move will only further aid the ruling party’s avarice to ‘gain the world and lose their soul.’ Speaking for myself, I can only say that elections just once a year will rob the citizens of year-round entertainment, as we will have to make do with one mega jamboree, and remain bereft of the cut and thrust of politics on our TV screens for the next five years. In saying that, I underestimate our politicians’ ability to keep doing crazy things and keep us all on tenterhooks. They are made of much sterner stuff. To say nothing of psychotic nutcases who become vivisectionists because they were dropped on their heads in their infancy.