Democracy's Tandav Nritya

May 12, 2014, 07:46 IST | Smita Prakash

After the last vote has been cast for the 2014 general elections today, there will be a sense of catharsis for some. The venomous statements that politicians have made against each other will reduce to a great extent. Many of them have already begun backroom negotiations, just in case they need to forge alliances.

Behind the Tamasha: Those very same politicians for whose sake we argued with one another will shake hands and forge treaties without a single thought for how they broke our carefully constructed linkages across caste and religion. Pic/PTI

Those very same politicians for whose sake we argued and divided each other into camps will shake hands and forge treaties without a single thought for how they broke our carefully constructed linkages across caste and religion. Yet again we allowed them to do it. Or worse, willingly let ourselves be led into the web of deceit. Not innocent villagers, but people like us. You know, the educated, the informed. Probably for the first time, seasoned columnists and veteran journalists openly carped at each other in their articles, endorsed candidates overtly and even clambered on to the campaign dais, not to report but to hobnob.

This election has scarred many who have barely any connection with real politics. People who have argued with friends and family on either side of the Great Divide, made snide comments on Facebook status, Tweeted or had phone conversations, lost respect and lost friends. It is a cliché to say that this has been one of the most divisive elections. But wait. It hasn’t.

There was one election not too long ago. It was the Mandal-Kamandal election. That election drew deep wedges among friends and neighbours. Suddenly the urban elite who had led a sweetly cushioned existence believing that casteism and communalism happened in the hinterland, in mofussil towns, and went away with their grandparents having to wake up from their slumber. The veil was off. Their distance from the village was illusionary; their city was actually a village with the same divisions. An election just made it apparent.

Watch a TV debate with friends, have a chat at a picnic and you will see how quickly masks fall. How, in a few seconds, invisible lines are drawn across the room.

This was a televised election. Just like televised riots and televised terrorism. Ugliness magnified and brought live to be seen clearly. If it is a Dance of Democracy, then this was the Tandav Nritya. Soul shattering. Every speech, every statement, every rally, every smirk, every snide remark, every vulgarity, every insult has been discussed on nightly news and documented for posterity.

Of course we are tired. Exhausted with reports from ‘ground zero’, ‘battle ground’, ‘maha-sangram’ etc. But politicians are somewhat right. On the ground, it is a tamasha that people take in their stride. Air-conditioned environments seem to encourage cynicism with politics that the heat and dust doesn’t. At the grassroots, people do watch and partake in the process with enthusiasm. They laugh and gossip about it, take part in the rallies, and recount salacious details about the private lives of politicians. It all plays out in front of their eyes only once in five years. They are not yet afflicted with the hyper-connectivity of urban Indians. They are not faced with the dilemma of fewer Likes to their political status on Facebook, stony stares at kitty parties to a political comment, and unfollows on Twitter because you retweeted a particular politician.

The nukkad, the panchayat, the sabha, the gram is their world and somewhere they work out a consensus of sorts. After much raucous debate and dissent. That is part of Indian discourse. We are all political animals. Some secretly and some openly. It is the analyst or the strategist who thinks of catharsis or doomsday scenarios. You are welcome to such well-researched, much applauded pieces which will be read in windowless rooms. Life kind of carries on in India despite all the doom and gloom scenarios. Somehow we muddle through. Election after election.

Prime Minister V P Singh was supposed to bring back Bofors kickback money, he brought in Mandal instead. Narasimha Rao promised to rebuild the Babri mosque and then did a U-turn saying he did not promise to build it at the same spot. Vajpayee said aar-paar ki ladai, he went to Lahore on a bus instead.

Dr Singh was to bring second generation economic reforms, ten years later we have the reputation of a scam-tainted country.

So I, for one, am not buying into the fear psychosis being created about the next government in India. I would rather believe in hope. A government is elected on a popular vote; the mandate is to do right according to the collective conscience of its people.

Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter @smitaprakash

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