August 26, 2008

Being Politically Aware

Often it is said that the masses vote without thinking. They get carried away by the wilful politicians. Political pundits sit in their air conditioned rooms and lament the absence of an electorate that thinks for itself. Maybe they are correct in their assumptions or maybe it is the high society snobbishness speaking which has never bothered to go and vote in the general elections. In fact, I belong to the same category. I haven’t voted in an election for a long time now. The classes I graduated with since school, college and post graduation would easily number around 1200. Even if 200 amongst these young men and women cast their ballot in the forthcoming general elections, I will be surprised. If I count all the seniors and juniors I know, the percentage might drop even further. I do not know if I myself will be able to. I know that I want to. Because when I crib about governance in this country, I want to hold my head my high and say I exercised my right and therefore you are answerable to me. I AM THE ELECTORATE. I still remember the pride with which I voted in all of the elections that were held during my stay in Calcutta.

Anyway, coming back to the point, it was Guru Purnima that night and I was travelling back in an auto. As I chatted up with the driver learning up about Mumbai roads, he causally mentioned that Matosree was on the way. I asked him if he could take me to Matosree and then drop me off. He tensed for a moment and asked “aap unke supporter ho?” (Are you his supporter?) On my confirmation that I was a completely non political person he eased up a bit. He was a Maithili Brahmin and like many others from his state was wary of the recent developments in the city. He told me how he considered himself a Mumbaikar and yet today he had to live carefully. He took me to Matosree. TV reporters and the supporters of Sri Balasaheb Thakre were everywhere. For me, it was covering another landmark of one of my favourite cities in my country, for him it was standing face to face with the uncertainty of his future in a land he had come to call his own. (For the uninitiated, Matosree is the residence of Sri Balasaheb Thakre, the founder of Shiv Sena.) While I was getting down at Dharavi and paying him, he told me, “Mujhe ghar jana hain aur vote dena hain. Agar mere gaon mein kaam ban jaye, toh mere bete ko aana nahin parega Mumbai,” (I want to go back and vote this time. If there’s work in my village, my son will not have to come to Mumbai). There was no animosity for anyone. Just a hope for a better future. The questions about ‘sons of the soil’ are complicated. And I do not think I can dare to try and give my viewpoint on it. In a play the Sutradhar does not voice his opinion. His work is to bring forward the opinions. If I consider myself a Sutradhar, I have heard enough arguments for and against the topic, all equally passionate.

My second realization came the day UPA won the trust vote in Parliament. I had just landed in Mumbai. In the Lounge at the airport, people were watching the news channels for a glimpse of what would happen in Parliament. When I got on to the cab, his first question to me was where I would be heading. His second was if I knew the result of the trust vote. I like Dr. Manmohan Singh and I unequivocally say it all the time. And never once across the length and breadth of India, cutting across political lines, have I ever met anyone who disagrees. Of course, you’ll realize that I haven’t met Mr.Karat.

There’s another class of people, who are slowly dying out, in this country. They are the Indira-philes, not India-philes. These people feel a strange and often crazy sense of loyalty to the late Ms. Indira Gandhi. I have seen them in Bengal, I have seen them in UP and that night I was sitting beside one in the taxi. I never had such a deep insight into the state politics from anyone ever. He knew every single result of every single assembly and municipal elections. He knew whom he was voting for and why. He knew he would vote for the Congress again if Dr. Singh continued. By the time I reached my guest house, I perhaps knew more about the Maharashtra politics than ever before. If only we had a few million more like him, who might be anyone's supporter but aware of the reasons behind their support. In fact, tonight I can imagine him sitting down after his hard day and telling all who had gathered around him, “If Mrs. Gandhi was alive today…”

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