The juggernaut of Indian politics
There's no bigger entertainment in India today than politics.
There’s no bigger entertainment in India today than politics. Yes, true, there are some people who cannot survive without watching well-paid film stars beat up less well-paid smaller stars and even less-paid extras or getting their hearts warmed by an aurally challenged person dancing around (did anyone actually watch that movie?) but no tigers or barfis can match heavyweights like Raj Thackeray or Narendra Modi when they start to dance around the political arena. The biggest ticket right now is female however: who can match Mamata Banerjee when it comes complicated dance moves and incredible back flips?
Into the Bollywood mix, you have the equivalent of parallel cinema — activists like Arvind Kejriwal and Anna Hazare who are all set to change the system. They deal with serious issues without any song and dance routines. So those Indians who sleep through art house cinema have barely heard of them; others who can compare the subtleties of Mani Kaul (not to be confused with Mani Sir Ratnam) with those of Ingrid Bergman without getting inexplicably depressed, find this alternative form of save the nation politics (not to be confused with Arnab Sir Goswami) very thrilling.
So what’s showing at a TV screen near you now? Narendra Modi says Rs 1880 crore has been spent on Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s treatment. The figure is clearly outrageous and more clearly manufactured. The RTI activist who has been elliptically quoted via a local Gujarat newspaper says he has never heard of such a figure. Rather than come up with another more plausible figure, the Congress demands an apology. Modi says he will apologise if he’s wrong but then… well, if he apologises he’ll never win another election in Gujarat, so that’s that.
The BJP, which is trying to figure out how it seems to be on the back foot because of a rise in diesel prices and a law that allows individual states whether they want foreign supermarkets chains or not, is now overjoyed that it has to protect Modi and his boorish claims. This deflects attention from all the problems it has with its own president Nitin Gadkari and his fight with an RTI activist who claims that he claims that he has connections to the Pawars of the NCP, apart from allegations that his friends are involved in the coal allocation scam.
The UPA, which was on the back foot all along and has no explanation for this, got a little luck with the prime minister proving he can speak. Instead of building on that, the Congress is wasting time trying to get Modi to abandon his megalomania. Meanwhile, it has to deal with warring allies — and in that wondrous irony that dictates politics, the departure or the submission of those allies, only benefits the Congress and the central government.
And then, there’s Banerjee. In an amazing multi-lingual speech, the chief minister of West Bengal bemused the people of Delhi with her mangled metaphors in Hingali, Benglish, Bengali and Benurdu. In between she gave a shout out to farmers and shopkeepers. This much was clear – Banerjee was taking her magical mystery tour all over the country. The sole message from Banerjee’s rally — you guessed right: The common people.
Of course, every political party says it stands for the common people. Even Kejriwal – whether he’s fighting with (former?) mentor Anna Hazare or not – is for the common people. In fact, his new party promises employment for all, among other promising avenues for failure and back-tracking.
There is only one entity in India which has the power to overshadow this bone-crushing, all-encompassing juggernaut. But for that to happen, India has to win the T20 World Cup again. On the off-chance that that doesn’t happen — fasten your seatbelts ladies and gentlemen, because the roller-coaster is about to start again.
Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona