Jantar, Chhu Mantar

As you savour this election verdict, remember the line that the Jantar Mantar candle-light vigilantes so loved to paint on their Gandhi (Anna) caps: Mera neta chor hai. It was spoken with such vehemence, and so adored by PLUs, that you had to be suicidal to question it. Defending the politicians? Have you had your head examined lately? Your best friends would catch you in five-star hotel lobbies and chide: "You defending the system? What's wrong with you, you were such a nice guy? This mood is not against democracy. This is against bloody politicians." "Apolitical", or "people's" democracy, was the flavour of that heady fortnight.

It was a matter of time — actually very little time — before the clamour of mera neta chor hai brought to us its inevitable echo, or the other side of the same philosophical coin: mera voter chor hai. That was always the sentiment underlying the Armani-Jimmy Choo "Revolution" of Jantar Mantar: that our democracy only installed illiterate, crude, crooked, good-for-nothings in power while the really virtuous, the self-styled EPs ("Eminent People"), leaders of the self-defined Civil Society, who mostly spoke with each other, activists and busybodies, the really smart and honest Indians, were excluded.

And the one responsible for this atrocity was the usual suspect, the Indian voter, who answered exactly the same description as the neta: stupid, illiterate, crude, ignorant, and finally, but most importantly, corrupt. If you had dared to question this when the jasmine-scented smoke of candles was wafting in our TV studios, you would have been instantly convicted and sentenced for being pro-corrupt and anti-democracy. You had to be recklessly brave to raise these questions in that phase of Prime Time McCarthyism.

The really bright, intelligent and, most importantly, "honest" Indians were now bringing you your Tahrir Square, to liberate you from tyranny. And tyranny of what else but this curse called India's electoral democracy. And you were complaining? Whose side were you on? A perfectly intelligent and creative actor as Anupam Kher (if you want to see how brilliantly talented he is, go watch his autobiographical solo act, Kuchh Bhi Ho Sakta Hai, next time he brings it to your city) was exhorting us to throw our Constitution out of the window. Neha Dhupia, who cut such a fetching yet convincing figure in Phas Gaye Re Obama as the S&M, man-hating don-madam of Uttar Pradesh's kidnapping mafia, tweeted that when she landed in Delhi a day after Anna's fast, the air already felt less corrupt to her. All this nonsense, even if from such talented and well-meaning people, was given wide currency by many of us in the media as if this was our moment of deliverance — from our rotten democracy. Yet, it took the simple honesty of venerable Anna Hazare himself to say clearly what was being insinuated in whispers, or read between the lines: that the one responsible for the destruction of our democracy, governance and public life, was our silly voter. To borrow an expression from Barack Obama, Anna Hazare spiked his own movement's football by explaining why if he contested elections he would lose his deposit, because our voter, the corrupt, drunken idiot, would merely trade her vote for cash, a sari, a bottle of liquor.

All of us who applauded that now need to write a big, grovelling apology to the voter. She has defied all these temptations to deliver a verdict as wise and decisive as any seen anywhere. More specifically, an even humbler note of apology is due to the people of Tamil Nadu, painted as the most corrupt of all with awful, awful stereotypes thrown at them: they only vote for saris, liquor and 500-rupee notes (two "Gandhis" before polling, and two after the results if the "right candidate" wins). Gandhi, if you haven't figured already, is the code for a 500-rupee note because it carries the Mahatma's portrait. The proposition was that because the DMK had them in the bag with all these bribes and the freebies, they would continue to vote them back to power, ignoring Raja and 2G. How could you trust "such" voters with electing your rulers? And what could you expect when your voters sold out for bribes, and elected bribe-givers who, in turn, would recover their "investment" many times over and so on. After today's verdict, will you still dare to say this?

The very same voter has come out in numbers unprecedented in electoral history (when voting percentages are declining around the world) and thrown rotten egg on all our faces. All of us, upper crust, upper caste, well-heeled PLU,

EP, howsoever flattering the acronym we fabricate to describe ourselves, should collectively apologise to the wise people of Tamil Nadu. Can you imagine how lousy (even if cynically vindicated) we would have felt if they had elected the same venal DMK again? So bow to them, in your newly painted Gandhi (Anna) cap, and say a sincere sorry.

Just when the most protected and privileged classes are demonising and demolishing the "system", those allegedly at its most brutally unjust receiving end have stood up to protect it. Even in Assam, which is so smugly and lazily described as "insurgency-ridden" in civil society and media discourse despite it having been so peaceful for so long, the voter turnout was 75 per cent. And in West Bengal, allegedly reeling under a million mutinies, 84 per cent. Did all these voters brave the May heat in India's most humid zones to vote because somebody bribed them, or fed them hooch? How smugly contemptuous can we, the well-heeled, be of our poorest, most vulnerable and most exploited brethren who not only protect our freedoms but also give us the gift of their collective wisdom by electing or rejecting our governments on merit, and help build our institutions. All this while we pour scorn on politics and democracy, march the streets of South Bombay and Lutyens' Delhi threatening to not pay taxes, to throw out the "system". And how do we vote? Compare South Bombay's 43.3 and South Delhi's 47 (our two most PLU/ EP constituencies) to 85 per cent in the Maoist heartland of Jhargram in tribal West Bengal. And who won Jhargram, the most romantically celebrated "liberated" zone? Mamata's candidate Sukumar Hansda; the candidate of the very pro-Maoist "civil society", the PCAPA's Chhatradhar Mahato, lost his deposit. A revolution, you said? We have seen one today, but not one we had been promised! And thank the poorest, most honest Indian, our voter, for that.

This is a free country, so you have the right to question and attack the "system". But the problem is, our civil society, media, intellectual and ideological discourse are all still thin and shallow. They have a long way to go before they can match the depth and maturity of our voting classes. They make a destructive lynch mob with an unquestioning, don't-confuse-me-with-facts media. They can severely undermine the very institutions that protect our freedoms, rights and entrepreneurship. Of course, the "system" develops aberrations but correctives must come from within it, not from outside with hastily, self-servingly and ultimately self-destructively invented constructs like "civil society", Eminent People (EP), Empowered Committees, court-appointed "Eminent" outsiders and so on. Many of us, in frustration, have resorted to these shortcuts — even that the Lokpal be appointed similarly by "Eminent" outsiders of "unimpeachable Integrity". In fact, this amounts to demanding almost a "civil society" coup d'etat by depoliticising democracy and governance. We must introspect. So, indeed, must our higher courts which, I should argue with humility, have unwittingly played along with this mood and are now, to use a cliché judges love to use in their judgments, hoist with their own petard: the political class is hitting back so artfully by manoeuvring to get panels of EPs to select judges, hoping to throw out the Supreme Court's hallowed collegium and, if they had their way, expose all judiciary to the deprecatory gaze of the na-appeal, na-vakil, na-daleel Lokpal, selected, generally, by the same EPs who would be elected by nobody, but selected, in turn, by fellow EPs. Why? Because the voter is too stupid to give you a system that can get it right from within. If you still believe that dangerous nonsense, read today's verdict again.


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