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Real hero of the verdict

Overlooked, despised and dismissed as foolish and illiterate, the aam aadmi has more wisdom in his little finger than all those psephologists and reporters

Real hero of the verdict

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Ira Pande

Kabir, the popular folk poet, will always remain the original wise man of Benaras. He wrote thousands of couplets (dohas) that are memorised by generations of schoolchildren, though quickly forgotten. However, they have an uncanny ability to burrow themselves in one’s brain and rise unbidden to open a window of wisdom at odd moments. The doha that has haunted me after the June 4 poll verdict is: ‘Durbal ko na satayiye, jaaki moti haai’. Roughly translated, it means, don’t torture the weak for he has a potent curse. If there are lessons to be learnt from this doha, then all political parties had better heed them. This election was a stunning revelation of the pain and misery the hapless poor of this country have suffered in the last few years. The triumphant slogans of the ruling parties about the booming economy, India’s rising worth worldwide and how many millions have been lifted out of poverty — all these meant nothing to those who were doomed to subsist on dole, charity and State neglect.

Why blame the ruling government alone? Are we, the well-fed, the smug middle class living in comfortable condos with uninterrupted power and water supply, any less guilty? We write long articles on how this country’s poor are suffering, but have even a small number among us ever lifted a finger to alleviate their misery? I know of neighbours who deduct wages for the days their helper is unable to come for work. Remember the Shylock speech from ‘The Merchant of Venice’ where he asks whether Jews are any different from the rest of Venetians — ‘If you cut us, do we not bleed?’ he asks the Rialto’s smug burghers. Do these workers not have days when they are unwell or have an urgent task to attend to at home? But no, ‘these people are shirkers’ is the response most employers have. The othering of ‘these people’ will come one day to bite is all I can predict.

Let us now turn to Punjab, the state that concerns me most deeply. When we left it in 1990, it was just emerging from a frightening decade of separatism, terrorism and social turmoil. It took years of work and political compromises to bring it to a level of normalcy that it enjoyed for a brief while. However, in the last few years, some unhappy developments threaten to take it back to those grim days when religious fundamentalism, agricultural backsliding and a comatose industry have risen simultaneously to derail the state. Add to this its fragile political atmosphere and you have a state that may erupt into flames before we realise it. The old generation of politicians — Badal Senior, Amarinder Singh, who wielded political power by turns — as well as those bureaucrats and citizens who understood Punjab so well and never left it despite the challenges they often faced — sadly, all have vanished. Rampant corruption, the open meddling by Pakistan and the drug dealers from as far away as Afghanistan and Canada have filled that vacuum.

Everyone talks of their rights but lead me to the person who points out our duties. Rights and duties go hand in hand and unless the citizens themselves step in and help those who need help, we will always be dissatisfied with the State. Perhaps it is the eternal legacy of colonialism that we do not regard our land as our own. We wait for the sarkar (an amorphous concept) to resolve problems because they have the power. In truth, as the recent election results show, we the people have the power but we don’t know it. Once in five years, we let the incumbent government know it has failed us, but we elect instead the same set of rogues.

I may not be around five years later to see or comment on the next General Election, but what I have learnt from this one disturbs me deeply. Those of you who pride themselves on their Punjabiyat or Bharatiyata, stand up and take control of your fate.

Finally, a salute to the aam aadmi, the common Indian, who is really the hero of this verdict. Overlooked, despised and dismissed as foolish and illiterate, he has more wisdom in his little finger than all those psephologists who only crunched numbers, and those reporters who thought they had the elections on their plate as they ate and chatted with citizens who spoke fluent English or Hindi. They picked their way, hanky to nose, through the overflowing gutters and filth of a tiny village that had not seen a politician or reporter ever before, and who held the mike in a death grip to curse the netas who never bothered to come their way. Broken, rutted village roads, unemployed youth sitting idly making reels, women working in a brick-kiln in the gruelling heat of the afternoon were brushed aside even as paeans of praise were read out on the shining highways, or the infrastructure of our cities by the sleek neta who basked in his huge bungalow, smug in the belief that ‘Modi ki guarantee’ will bail him out once again.

As we now enter an era when the Opposition benches will be as strong as the ruling coalition, let us hope they use Parliament as it was meant to be. A place to uphold the rights of the common Indian.


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