The word ‘democracy’ means people’s rule. In a democracy, the people are the rulers. In India, we pride ourselves on being the largest democracy in the world. However, our elected representatives — the MLAs, MPs, ministers, chief ministers and the prime minister — always refer to us the people, who are supposed to be the rulers, as the ‘aam aadmi’ or the common man. What is ‘common’ about a man who is a ruler? Are there any ‘uncommon’ men in this democratic country? Are the elected representatives a superior class of people? By implication, they seem to be declaring so.
The politicians alone have not contributed to this class distinction. We, the people who have sent the representatives to Bangalore or Delhi as the case may be, have started calling them as ‘netas’ or ‘leaders.’ The entire lot of people who are into politics is being referred to as ‘netas.’ The point is: we the people have given them away this elevated status.
We seem to crave to perpetuate the ruler and the ruled divide even after the different Rajs — Mughal, British, and in some small pockets French and Portuguese — have come and gone. Now we seem to need ‘uncommon’ men from amongst us to tell us what to do or not to do.
We need these uncommon men to come from afar to our dwellings on a padayatra for an hour or two and comprehend our miseries of the utter shortage of water, sanitation, shelter, transport, electricity, dhal, onions, vegetables, etc so that they may initiate some action or, more likely, just pretend to listen and proceed to do what they always do.
Sometimes they even suddenly enlighten us as to what we as ‘aam janata’ should be doing. For instance, we should be vigilant against crime in our neighbourhood, or that we as ‘grahaks’ (consumers) should beware (jaago) or that we should ‘save oil and save nation’ — which we will be doing anyway when petrol is being sold at over Rs 60 a litre.
Note another word in their lexicon: ‘padayatra’ ie walking on foot. These uncommon men condescend to walk to the so-called rulers of the democracy. Of course, when they cannot walk long distances, they descend from helicopters and then take on foot to the common man’s dwelling.
When they cannot descend on ground because the ground is flooded and wet or burnt and ravaged due to some reason, they do the aerial surveys sitting in planes hovering in the sky. Sometimes, some of them descend from choppers and get into our cities’ ‘cattle class’ transport like the city buses or suburban trains like in Mumbai for 30 minutes or so and ‘understand’ our daily woes.
Unique for India
Nowhere in the world is the phrase common man in use. The people of a country are called its citizens. The distinction of the commoners and the royalty has been only in a few nations like the United Kingdom but that distinction also has faded and has not remained even in the marital relations now entered into by the queen’s progeny and their progeny. Unfortunately, we in India have replaced the royalty or the raj with the netas.
The netas have evolved their own dress code of white kurta pyjama or white lungi and a long shirt. Add a short tight desi jacket when it is cold. This dress code is common across all political parties — be they Congressmen, NCP men, Trinamool Congress men, BJP men, JD men (all kinds of JDs) or even CPM men. It seems they want to distinguish themselves from the aam aadmi who wears different colours according to the season.
The word citizen imbues power while the phrase common man is for the disempowered. The netas have a vested interest in keeping the citizens disempowered. How else will they plunder the national wealth right under their noses? They are the netas, so they will take a lion’s share of the so-called fast growth of the Indian economy at superfast speed.
By keeping the citizens as aam aadmis, they along with their accomplices — real estate tycoons, several big industry-wallahs and like-minded bureaucrats — can be in a position to escape the laws being enforced on them whatever may be the extent of their transgression. They are the netas and therefore they are the makers and enforcers of the law.
It is often said that the aam aadmi has the power to remove the netas in the next round of elections. This is also another myth deliberately perpetuated by netas themselves. In fact, the election results do not have much correlation with the performance of the incumbent government or netas. Not yet.
Elections in India have a lot to do with many other factors like caste, religion, sect, language, and other divisive aspects that the netas have been exploiting to their advantage. There is a large fraction of people illiterate and below the poverty line — kept there for a long time — who can be swayed by factors that have little to do with performance.
Transformation can occur when we get it for sure that we will not any more allow ourselves to be aam aadmis, that we are the citizens of this country and therefore the destiny of our nation can be shaped by ourselves.
(The writer is a former professor at IIM, Bangalore)