We have taken India’s Commonwealth Games scandal in our stride. I sense a slow building up of pride and complacency in the media about India hosting the “biggest CWG games ever”.
Do we feel a sense of outrage at the revelations that pop up now and then about our netas’ bank balances and assets? Not really, not any more. There is the usual sage nodding of heads and a few wry and cynical remarks, but also an unspoken understanding that one is rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. That is, over and above what the average citizen pays as Caesar’s tribute such as dues to the IT dept. and sundry other expenses, ie. bribes to public officials, cops, etc. In return we get surreally bizarre town planning, potholed roads, no tax refunds, and the ultimate indignation of seeing semi-illiterate rooftop-shouters feted on Page 3.
From our naïve, (on hindsight comically ludicrous) Nehruvian days when exposure to the kind of ill-begotten riches our leaders make would have us frothing at the mouth with righteous indignation, to our present state of tacit acceptance, we have come a long way.
When Bangaru Laxman was shown taking money, we were introduced to a new kind of gimmick in the electronic media – The Loop. The constant repetition of the loop and its circular grammar is hypnotic. An subjection to a series of unvarying successive audiovisual images repeating themselves over and over have always worked well with propaganda machines the world over. It creates axioms – universal truths which we take for granted – where none need exist. Indeed, why would anyone enter the business of politics or running the government if there were no perks involved, we ask ourselves. It’s just another business in the laissez-faire economy where some people inevitably end up as collateral damage. It’s every man for himself and to the devil with the hindmost. The public apathy that is thus created leads to greater civic indiscipline, lack of awareness of political affairs, and eventually the kind of anarchy we are now witness to. There is no lack of political “entrepreneurs” to take advantage of this mess and thus a vicious cycle is perpetuated.
This is the irony of the Loop. A part of a whole, it illustrates the greater whole. The Loop is pornographic in its nature. It builds up ratings and brings profit to its creators, dishes out vicarious satisfaction without giving fulfillment and always holds out the promise of more without delivering anything beyond its brief. And of course there is the moment of anticipation and climax each time over and over again when the subject takes the money or says/does something indiscreet. The shaky grainy images are reminiscent of bad quality prints and creaking chairs and the surreptitious sweaty interiors of roadside video parlours.
And so we say, “So what? If it wasn’t him, it would be someone else.” But there’s more. Beyond this point is the zone of sneaking respect for those who must surely be made of a different fibre, those who venture where most of us would not dare to tread, who have chosen not to lead the lives of clockwork mice and drudges, carrying heavily their loads of office routines and commutes, with only the cheerless sops of childhood moral science clichés to prop them up. Right and wrong becomes confused when you see a man making in a day what you would not be able to make in a lifetime. And when that person is feted in Page 3 parties (by the same media) and clicked grinning smugly with his arms around Bollywood starlets, the negative reinforcement is complete. Its all natak – drama. Why hold strong opinions? Why vote? Why complain to the local corporator about the potholed roads?
The relevance of hoarded wealth has gone further than the mundane questions of how and by what means. It was Lalu Yadav who famously said that when he, a Yadav, flew aboard a helicopter, he was setting an aspirational example to all Yadavs downtrodden for centuries. He was striking a blow for Yadav pride. He has since, continued to raise their “pride” to higher levels, whether he has been able to better their lot or not. Our leaders are weighed in silver and gold. We thus reaffirm one of the oldest ideas of kingship – “a king must appear to be a king” in order for his subjects to respect him. What is a leader’s worth after all if he cannot wear Armani suits and call a superstar his older brother? What else would be his barometer of success in an impoverished constituency? That one among us/our village/caste/tribe/ has amassed great wealth, vicariously elevates us too – so the logic goes. This was Bal Thackeray’s logic too when he urged all Marathis to take pride in the “achievements’ of a Pune stud farm owner of dubious repute.
But what of the common man, the so called man on the street, who accepts his tryst with destiny with the same kind of fatalism his ancestors passed down in the wisdom of hopelessness. Does he stand forever outside the privileged walls, hat in his hand, drenched and miserable and admiring at the same time? Perhaps he waits for the time when one of Them will fall to hubris and he can experience the pleasure of the Loop once again.
Until then Mr Kalmadi, rest easy.