Politics for (Us) Dummies

Paramjit Bakhshi

“Just because you don’t take an interest in politics doesn’t mean that politics won’t take interest in you”, wrote Pericles aeons ago. Politics does take an interest in us but being largely ignored by politicians, except just before elections, we are largely accustomed to thinking differently. Of course it is funny how politics often expresses itself. Take the case of Uttar Pradesh, the state with the largest population. To borrow a few words from my son, the large population of the state did not happen due to pollination and sex must surely have something to do with it. However when politics throws up a bachelor and a so called celibate (so called because one cannot vouch for anyone’s celibacy nowadays with so many babas and priests doing such scandalous salsas) as a Chief Minister what does he do? Well he forms anti-Romeo squads? “Since I couldn’t or didn’t enjoy being a Romeo all you shameless sods better stop having premarital romantic notions”, his action seems to convey.  As children we used to snigger when we sang, ‘All Indians are my brothers and sisters” wondering who we could marry if we were all so related. With my wife looking unlike an Indian (she has some Chinese blood too) I got married to a Khasi girl, safe in the knowledge that there wasn’t the remotest possibility of incest having taken place. And now politics has got interested in such marriages. Or rather it is telling everybody not to be inclined towards such marriages.  Marry within thy tribe or you won’t have a tribe to belong to. It appears to be a move borrowed from some religious institutions. Tie the knot outside the religion, nay even outside the denomination or sect you belong to and you will face excommunication is their statute. It is strange that such religions which seek to separate humans from other humans actually profess to join us to God.

In an age where you can’t even tell the youngsters to marry or to only marry somebody from the opposite sex it is a bold move. Cupid’s licensed arrows now need to be aimed with the precision of a Cruise missile. A wrong hit will bring with it unacceptable collateral damage for the community. But what will be the fate of those children born outside the wedlock and their father is unknown? Wonder what will be the fate of live-in couples and what will happen to girls who marry outside, divorce and then remarry inside the community. Will they be eligible for a ghar wapasi? What will happen too, if love finds somebody from the same community and the same sex? And where does the third sex fit in? Do religion and politics have a satisfactory response to these scenarios or are just content to stay tied up in knots. Of course all laws are dictated by people who have personally never been in scenarios they seek to discourage. I am sure that Nitish Kumar, unlike our late AB Vajpayee, does not enjoy a chotta peg every sundown. So he can morally justify prohibition in Bihar. His poor electorate in the state, who too sadly have never had a chance to marry a sweetheart or even have one, now cannot even seek solace in the cup that cheers. A political party here, a la Bihar, has already asked for prohibition to be imposed in our state and one wonders if more voices will soon join the fray. If Nagaland has ILP and we want it too, why not a dry state to boot.   With love already restricted, things might get so dry that our youth might not even be able to carry on with their evening “car o’ bar”.

In most cases however it is politicians who behave like irresponsible teenagers and as the great civil libertarian P J O’ Rourke, once remarked “giving money and power to politicians is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.” You never know when and from which direction they will ram us. Politicians now seek to regulate what we eat, whether we can drink, whom we can love even as they falter in their given duties to prevent fish from being laced with formalin, or stop the rampant sale of drugs and illicit liquor, or the widespread flesh trade under their very noses.

Yet even those of us who abhor politics and politicians agree that we need to have a government. If nothing else a government keeps up the illusion that there is somebody there taking care of less important things while we can go about the most important task of accumulating wealth. The people who are supposed to take care of such things we call public servants and political representatives, and the less important tasks these people are supposed to take care of include our safety, our health, our economy, our roads, our water supply and sewage- in fact everything outside the compounds of our houses. However our smart reps and servants have realised that we accept any state of affairs so why the hell should they be looking after things for us. They too busy themselves with doing the very thing which we consider most important.  Money thus gets siphoned off from government projects but this must be an international phenomenon because even Ronald Reagan once remarked, “the government is like a baby’s alimentary canal, with a happy appetite at one end and no responsibility at the other”. Our state of affairs being much worse the more appropriate end to the sentence might be – “no responsibility and diarrhoea at the other.”

So after most funds disappear, and the present and the future appear dismal, as a diversionary tactic the politicians desire us to look towards a fabled past. As roads deteriorate, water supply schemes don’t function, electricity becomes scarce, and jobs even scarcer we are being taken for a ride, albeit a backwards one. The past today however is an unrecognisable one without the sparkling streams, the fresh air or unscarred hillsides. In the past we had neither politicians nor political parties. So shouldn’t they too vanish as we move backwards forward? That would be wishful thinking because as political animals (mind you political but animal too) we can’t live without them and politics will always be there to cast its spell on us.  Like a rabbit scared motionless in a beam of light, politics makes mindless puppets out of us.  Little do we realise that the light and sound show is choreographed by party-political puppeteers who have us stopping, moving and even dancing to so many different tunes. The pre-election spectacle is even more special and includes an item or two from a repertoire of: a hateful hula hoop, a bloody break dance, a lynching lambada, or even a Molotov Macarena.

But it would be ungracious to condemn politicians because at least they provide much needed excitement while bureaucrats merely stonewall us into submission. Unless they are on the verge of retirement, or are retired and seeking to join politics. Then they too, like other hopefuls, open “the valves of their attention” (pardon me, Emily Dickinson) and voters are rewarded with a few ounces of liquor, a meal or two and a few rupees. Oh the benefits of democracy. After five years of drought, rains the manna from our masters. Did I say masters?  Yes I did because we must realise that they are not our servants or reps but actual masters. Don’t you see the red lights and hear the wail of the sirens as they go whizzing by faster than a fox hunting a prey. Animal imagery for politics but hey that is old stuff and passé.

 Of, course some of us also aspire to become masters, or at least be members of a looting assembly. Only those aspirants, astute enough to benefit from our moral timidity and our lack of clarity on important issues, succeed. Harry Truman once said, “If you can’t convince them, confuse them.” But confused as we already are we are the perfect pushovers for the political class. Just look at us. We don’t know whether we want a future or a past. We live in concrete mansions yet dream of life in un-electrified bamboo huts. We praise the country side but protest if we are ever posted there. We want a clean environment but opportunely ruin our rivers and forests. We detest traffic jams but buy multiple vehicles. We want the outside world to finance us and even provide us with goods but want no contact with anybody from outside. We profess to be democratic but are irked by dissent. We want all the data on our phones but expect none from people who make crucial decisions about our future.  We want the law to be tough on crime but always let us off the hook.

Do you ever wonder whether we mould politics or does politics mould us? Like the question about the chicken and the egg the answer lies in the realm of fiction. Reality is, it is said, stranger than fiction. However fiction, I would say is more compelling and political fiction extremely so. Grouch Marx said, “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.” There is a political spectacle happening under our noses so should we say to hell with reality and just watch the show.

Or alternatively should we, go with Malcolm X who said, “You’re not to be so blinded with patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it.”

Either way politics continues to stay interested in us. Or as The English would say, it has us by our b******s.

The writer can be contacted at bakhshi03@rediffmail.com


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