Painted and dented musings
By the time the President of India’s son made a spectacular ass of himself on national television I had already spent many hours musing, in a painted and dented sort of way, upon the behaviour of the chief resident of Raisina Hill. Why did he not meet the protesters on the very first day? When the crowds of angry women swelled the next day and tried to get into Rashtrapati Bhavan, why did he not come out and speak to them? Why did he not accept the petition they tried to give him? Why did he not show the smallest hint of compassion for the brutally raped young medical student? In my musings, I asked the same questions about the Prime Minister, Sonia Gandhi and the young MPs who were so vocal inside the Lok Sabha after the horror happened. And, most of all I mused over the mysterious absence of the man who the Congress Party will make prime minister if it wins in 2014. Where was he?
His Mummy, we heard, came out late one evening and talked to protesters who had gathered outside her house but if this happened, why was the meeting kept secret? Usually when India’s most reclusive political leader deigns to grant an audience, television reporters fall over themselves trying to get a picture or just a sound byte. With hundreds of them covering the protests at India Gate, five minutes away from 10 Janpath, how is it that nobody managed to get any visuals of the audience?
If a single political leader had come out to meet the protesters and tried to share their rage there would perhaps have been no teargas shells, no lathi charge and no violence. So why did it not happen? In trying to answer these questions, in my painted and dented way, I have found myself deducing that none of our political leaders have noticed that in the past few years a new kind of voter has come into being. The profile of this new voter is middle class, aspirational, urban, angry and sick to death of rotten governance and rotten politicians. These voters first became evident when Anna Hazare started his movement against corruption but they have been around longer than that. They have been around since the 2009 election when the Sonia-Manmohan government won its second term.
The new seats that gave the Congress Party its biggest mandate since 1991 came mostly from urban India. But, because Sonia and Rahul Gandhi believed wrongly that it was MNREGA and their concern for ‘the poor’ that gave them the mandate, they concentrated on wooing rural India with more and more largesse. Often this largesse is named after some member of the Gandhi family in the hope that illiterate and destitute people will think that if they get a housing loan under the Indira Awaas scheme or health insurance through a Rajiv Gandhi card, they will continue to vote for the Dynasty. It is unethical to use taxpayers’ money for personal propaganda but nobody objected. Not the desperately poor beneficiaries and not the leftist economists who make a living out of patronising the poor. Unfortunately, this means poverty must remain forever and ever.
Leftist economists who form the inner circle of advisors around Sonia and Rahul Gandhi despise the economic liberalisation that the Prime Minister was responsible for when he was P V Narasimha Rao’s Finance Minister. They despise it because it created an urban middle class that today refuses to believe that ‘India’s poverty’ is to blame for bad governance, injustice, disparity and corruption. In order to continue to try and preserve the old order, leftist intellectuals and politicians have taken to frequenting prime time chat shows to denounce development and prosperity. I am in regular TV studio combat with people who tell me that the economic reforms have created a model development that has brought prosperity to only a few. When I ask if there was not more poverty in those old socialist times they become speechless with rage.
The truth is they do not know how to deal with the new India or the new middle classes. So they persuade the Congress Party’s royal family to continue to play by the old rules of patronising the poor and glorifying poverty. Nobody dares tell them that the old rules of politics no longer work and that there is a new multi-caste, middle class for whom their government has done nothing since winning re-election. So if the chickens are coming home to roost nobody should complain.
Had one leader in those high offices on Raisina Hill understood how the times had changed we may have been spared the sickening sight of policemen attacking students and young women with sticks and teargas shells. So what if they were ‘painted and dented’.
Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh