The missing apologies

THE GREAT INDIAN CIRCUS

A couple of days back I had said that two words of courtesy, Please and Thanks, do not exist in the politicians lexicon. But then, we also have to give credit where it is due, even though politicians do not wait to collect what is due to them. In any case, to be fair let us acknowledge that there is one word of courtesy which the politicians, during the present elections, have been uttering like a mantra. It is ‘Sorry’. Our turn to say thanks now.

But then, the people of the land are a very insatiable lot. You offer them one and they would want two. If you don’t believe me, ask some finance companies, who have the dubious distinction of making even the politicians pale in ability to make suckers out of the masses. Anyway, the point is that, Indians do not let go of any chance to grab anything that comes free of cost and unsolicited, unmindful of the strings that may come attached. Sometimes, promises alone are adequate to get them on your side, Also when an object of adoration, invariably one from the political class or the movies, walks into their midst and expresses juicy words of courtesy they just go mad. It is still ‘who’ and not ‘what’ that matters to them. If so and so says, the crowds just heed and obey. You can call it ‘The Almighty-Arunachalam’ syndrome. When a Sonia or a Priyanka waves at the crowd everyone waves back. Why? ‘Cos each one in the crowd thinks they are waving at him or her. The same psychology is at work when the adored objects apologise for some past indiscretion or even a crime, which they can’t even comprehend. Quite understandable. It is certainly ego-tickling to have a Sonia saying sorry, as if she has just stepped on your shoes or a Vajpayee doing so for spilling his coffee on your starched kurta.

The spate of apologies is perhaps targeted at this psyche and typically the crowd may want more. There is, of course, no dearth for goof-ups over these inglorious years for which apologies may be elicited from the willing, obliging politicians. It is in fact a case of now or never for the people. The apology offer may close once the elections are over. Here are some suggestions…

We are told that our democracy is fifty years old. Even banyan trees attain great heights, given that time frame. But we still remain infants, our growth stunted by numerous impediments, most of which are primarily the handiwork of the ruling class. We may begin by seeking a collective apology from them for keeping us in the depths. Mahatma Gandhi, now being referred to more as Godse’s victim rather than as the Father of the Nation, said that India lives in the villages. In that case, India is long dead, because the villages are nothing more than relics of a primitive past. A short tour of Bihar or Orissa would be really revealing. It is agriculture that sustains our economy but our farmers are the poorest. Rural electrification is still a far cry. Free power for farmers is by far the biggest fraud on the people. Where does the question of free power arise when there is no power at all throughout? In fact, several farmers associations have even protested that if only uninterrupted power supply is assured they are ready to pay for it.

The villages invariably get to see the worst of caste and communal dashes. Never before has the society been fragmented so much. If the British divided India into two, the politicians have succeeded in fragmenting it into several pieces. Vote banks are identified along caste lines and it is only those leaders who cultivate their ‘groups’ well, ultimately make it to Parliament. No Jat can hope to win from a Rajput-dominated area nor can a Dalit even dream of contesting, leave alone winning from a high caste constituency. And the political parties, be they right or the left; field only caste-based candidates, as elections are all about winning, after all. Yet, a minimum of an apology is due for this monumental crime of balkanising India on caste lines.

The plight of the cities are no better. The law says that when you pay for something you must get your money’s worth, be it a product or a service. If not, you are entitled to get your money back. Even a petty shopowner would respect this elementary principle. But not our politicians and the governments. If they dare to do so, they may have to return to the people much of the money they collected as taxes, under various nomenclature. Road taxes have not improved the roads. Corporation taxes have failed to improve the sanitary and living conditions in the cities. Water taxes fetch us no water and even if it did, only polluted water. Yet we pay them for nothing in return. Of course it would be ridiculous to ask for a refund, though. The cheques may even bounce. So an apology would, suffice.

Thanks to our rulers, garibi hatao is a slogan that still has relevance. It would continue to be so for several more years to come. Poverty, the statisticians say, has come down. Poverty among the political class, we should infer as they are the only tribe that has consistently breached the poverty line. The people at large remain where they are. It makes sense for the politicians to keep them there. You can talk of the downtrodden only if they exist. Tired, as the people are of promises, at least an apology would be in order. The politicians wouldn’t get any poorer by doing so.

George Orwell said ‘political language and its variations, and this is true of all political parties from conservatives to anarchists, is designed to make lies sound truthful, murder respectable and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind’. A grand apology for all the lies, told and to be told, on political platforms, manifestos, and through all available spaces, would certainly help assuage feelings, if not completely remove the bad taste.

And above all, an apology is also due from them for knocking at our doors every two years, trying to snatch our only right, our vote, the sole reminder that we are still prajas of those rajas.

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Jawahar T R