Have you ever met a real full time politician? How many of us have had that unforgettable experience, I wonder? And no, this question is not for any mera dil hai hindustani, magar jeena hai amrika types who might have met American politicians and have a wholesome view of politics. This question is for full time Indian citizens. Have you ever met a full time Indian politician? If you are that lucky, you might have noticed that when and if you introduced yourself as so and so, he/she might have introduced himself (I am going with the predominant type here, excuse ladies) as a FULL TIME politician. If you are still wondering about it, there is no other type. Politics in India is a full time job, it requires a full time commitment to do it. Ratan Tata might run the entire Tata Group of Companies and still find time to think about the Nano project, Nilekani might have his hand in every pie from UID to Infosys. But our poor overworked politicians do not find time for anything else, even hobbies (unless that involves some games with women aspirants for tickets/seats).
Anyhow this fact was brought home to me by my various trips down south into the countryside. As I have previously mentioned, part of my job, involves traveling around the country, into godforsaken rural places even, participating in health care camps. But wherever I go, however remote the hamlet, I find/see a few men, clad in the obligatory, party color bordered dirty dhoti, lounging around in their pyols (or rope-beds)outside their huts, all day, from morning to night, without getting up for anything at all, unless to attend nature’s call. They are willingly and voluntarily served by their womenfolk who seem to be so proud of them and these women often run themselves ragged doing all sorts of harsh manual work, just to wait hand and foot on their lords and masters.
If out of curiosity you approach them and start a conversation on whether they are sick somehow and that prevents them from getting up and doing an honest days work, the answer comes straight and fast “I am in Arasiyal aka politics, I am a Full time Politician, a political worker and I work only during the one month time that the elections are announced, the rest of the time I have no work to do, so I take it easy”
Well, for someone who lives in the city and works hard to make both ends meet -this might feel a strange sort of life to lead, this lack of drive and ambition to make themselves better, this wasting away of life just to work one month every five years, so if you question them closely how they manage to make both ends meet when it is not election time, the answer is enlightening “Why should we work? Why should we worry? The benevolent govt provides us everything, from free rice, to free spice, to free gas, to free electricity, to free television, to free fan, to free mixer and grinder and everything. Besides the food provided for free is more than what we can earn even if we work, so why should we get out of the bed?”
What is more surprising is to see the poor lady of the house who somehow despite all these freebies, seems to have plenty of work to do all the time, agree with her lord and master that, there is no more need to work anymore, the govt has improved everything in their lives so much, that people can now all relax, except to go to the ration shop once a month, to collect what’s due to them. The rest of the time is for watching TV at home.
So then you quiz them about the future. What they would leave as a legacy for the dozen kids playing in the dirt around them. The answer is quickly forthcoming “Wait till the elections come. Once my work is recognized by the higher authorities, the more senior politicians like the district-in charge of the party (mavatta seyalalar) or the local MLA, and I am offered some substantial party post, then I will earn in lakhs and lakhs, more than our tahsildar or collector has earned till now (both these posts still being the benchmark for earning illegally). Every little thing in our village, every single signature in a document for our village will have to go through me, only then our MLA and Minister will sign, otherwise they will throw all the documents in the dustbin and ask them to come see me first before going up the ladder. And then will come my turn to earn. And my children will go around in giant cars.”
After this honest admission, you can only wish them luck with their future career plans and walk away, for who knows it might come true one day. This is not an isolated incident, but seen in village after village after village, everywhere in the rural part of India, the real India, the village India of which Gandhi used to speak about in such glowing terms; about how hard working all those village folks are compared to city folks.
And this kind of full time rural political workers are increasing every time you return for a visit. Now there are more and more people, sometimes even up to half the male population of some villages who are now opting for a full time political career, forsaking other jobs, because the number of political parties are proliferating and everyone wants their own representatives to work for them during the one month of the election time and don’t mind throwing money around- money usually got from the city folks who pay it as fee’s for their children’s education in private engineering and medical colleges and rotated back into the rural economy. So according to Gandhi’s vision, our villages are indeed prospering.
Not that our cities are lacking behind or anything. But city politicians have a much harder time flourishing financially, compared to rural politicians. For example, in villages you just have to lie at home and people come to you to give you money to spend. On the contrary, the hard working city politicians- for example the city corporation councilors make it a point to go out into the streets, walking every street daily, to check out the improvements in their constituencies daily. Of course, this improvement is of no thanks to them, but merely hard working citizens who make the mistake of starting any construction or alteration to their properties (build even a small balcony and see how fast they turn up) and immediately the councilor is assured of his household expenses for the month.
The good govt has in its zeal to empower the local citizens with their version of direct democracy (panchyati raj/local govt bills), has ceded so much power to the guardians of the streets, these street walking vigilantes, who keep our streets clean of any construction activities forcing property owners to think a hundred times before even whitewashing/painting their houses, in order not to attract any adverse attention from the ever vigilant servants of the people.
The most hilarious story of this kind, I heard recently was about this house owner with a large house opposite a park, straddling two streets at an intersection. When a local people’s representative approached him with an offer to buy the property himself, the house owner refused, saying the property was worth much, much more than the politician offered.
So the next day a group of women from the local (nearby slum) descended upon the house and right in front of the main gate (in the junction of the two streets), they dug up a black stone, which looked like having been buried in a shallow pit dug the previous night and then these women declared that the black stone, was the avatar of the local Mariamman, Goddess Shakti, who has spontaneously manifested herself there (Swayambhu) and immediately a priest was found, a shamiana erected and a temple to the deity raised in a couple of hours right in front of the gates.
The house owner before he realized what happened was caught inside the house unable to open the gate on one side for fear of destroying the local temple with so many believers and all. When the house owner finally went to court for encroachment, the learned court refused to order removal of the black stone, aka the divine deity for fear of offending peoples religious sentiments and the property was sealed (on a stay order) never to be sold again. Loss to house owner- 5 crores, loss to politician- 5 thousand rupees (for the local women). Now you tell me whether our politicians are a hard working lot or not?
P.S. For those of you who think I am pretty hard on politicians and not hard enough on their partners in crime, the bureaucrats, let me share this anecdote, I happened to overhear at a recent visit to the seat of power, the state secretariat. A group of bureaucrats were sitting together gossiping and this is what was said “i wish another tsunami would come before I retire at least. Last time it came I was in too junior a post and I could only watch all my seniors earn for so many generations from the tsunami. Just my luck that nothing is coming now when I am here. If only another tsunami comes I would retire happily”. And I leave you with this cheerful thought.