The big, fat Indian election

The big, fat Indian election

New Delhi: A salesman displays masks of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal at a shop, ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, in New Delhi, Wednesday, April 3, 2019. (PTI Photo/ Manvender Vashist)

When the Telugu composer Annamacharya sang “Nanaati brathuku, Natakamu…” comparing this life to a day to day drama, did he have a premonition about 21st century India, where the political scenario is one fantastic theatrical experience? It is also rich comedy, providing endless entertainment to its worldwide spectators. It would be a matter of concern only when the comedy turns into a tragedy.

Right now, on the eve of elections, the stage is replete with actors of all genres. Here is a true son of the soil — an unknown entity in the political scene — ready to take on the prime minister of India on his own turf in order to rid the armed forces of corruption. He is the latest version of Don Quixote tilting at windmills. But, he is sincere in his objectives. Then, there is that seasoned politician who rides piggy back on his dead father-in-law’s reputation. He knows that the memory of a film star turned chief minister will ensure a seat in the Lok Sabha.

In a country where heredity and family connections play a huge role in politics, it is not surprising that the chilling picture of a modern-day godfather is stirred in the voter’s mind as sons and nephews prepare to ascend the ‘gaddi’ in yet another crucial state. These scions of an infamous inheritance are also courted by other parties who realise the power they command over their fiefdom.

Acting comes naturally to the Indian politician. He addresses thousands of spectators in mammoth rallies with the same ease as he dons the role of a 21st century Casanova. That is how our well-known actors become savvy politicians. They can woo their voters with skillful oratory and superb acting that would put a John Gielgud or Amitabh Bachchan to shame.

Sometimes, they do not even have to speak to their voters. Their films have done that already. Does a Rajnikanth need to talk when his daring acts on screen have said everything?

A more sophisticated Kamal Hassan has only to flick his hair with that charming smile to have his voters swooning. That is the power of celluloid. And not in this country alone. Did not Ronald Reagan ride to the White House to become the 40th president of America on the strength of his cinematic persona? And, unbelievably, Fidel Castro became the undisputed leader in Cuba after he catapulted to fame with his acting in just one film.

Several state chief ministers in this country also had their innings in the celluloid world, which brought them fame, popularity and votes. The allure of NT Rama Rao, MG Ramachandran and J Jayalalitha survives even after they have departed from this mortal world. Such was their charisma.

Jayalalitha has even ensured that she will never be forgotten as her face greets you from billboards to television channels to tiffin boxes and, of course, through her 140 films, aired continuously to keep her memory alive. “Amma” has become synonymous with Tamil Nadu — an accomplishment par excellence.

It is wisely said that politicians think of the next election, while statesmen think of the next generation. Perhaps, Barack Obama comes nearest to this concept. His universal healthcare plan for every citizen in that country spoke of a mature, caring president whose every action spoke of concern for the ordinary citizen.

No wonder he has been described as “a warrior-philosopher who practiced the art of political persuasion by authoring acclaimed books, delivering well-crafted speeches, assembling unified coalitions, passing historic legislation, signing well-aimed executive orders, and cultivating a poised but accessible demeanour.”

How many of the hopeful wannabes crying hoarse as the general election gets going in this country can live up to such high standards of governance? All that we hear today are either empty slogans or vicious mudslinging.

Instead of telling the voter what to expect if elected to the country’s seats of power, candidates are preoccupied in hurling insults at each other. They are exposing themselves at their ugliest, which will hardly encourage voters to elect them to power. “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt” should be their guideline until elections are over, at least.

Yes, it is a sad state of affairs for the citizens of this country who must choose between the proverbial devil and the deep sea as they go to the polling booths. Fortunately, we are a resilient lot and can survive in spite of those who govern us. Our ability to laugh away problems which they create for us is our greatest strength. Just as the iconic cartoonist RK Laxman used to wonder how he would have survived in his profession but for the politicians who were a perennial source of inspiration for him!