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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 14, March 29, 2014

Fun Times in India

Wednesday 2 April 2014, by Badri Raina


These are fun times in the world’s largest democracy. As General Elections approach, doctrainaire distinctions between politics and sport are finally crumbling. Purchase and sale, purchase and sale—that is the presiding mantra; if cricketers are being bought and sold among contenders in the money-spinning Indian Premier League, so are professional political practitioners. In either arena, the object is to cut the best deals available mutually as between the individual and the team, individual and the political party.

It may now safely be said that the retarding burdens of loyalty to party and ideology, and most of all, of commitment to the electorate, are being creatively transcended in the mainstream political formations, Lest you should not know, a “moral code of conduct” comes into operation in India soon as the Election Commission for-mally announces the schedule for the hustings. But you would be grievously mistaken if you assume that such morality afflicts the political or intellectual fibre of the players in the fray. Thus, master strokes of malleability are on the anvil, as one politico after another suddenly awakens to the wretchedness of the party he has been a part and propagandist of for full five years and discovers the shining virtues of that “other” that he has been roundly castigating in and out of Parliament. Thus, wherever you look, epiphanies drip from the political firma-ment—those that were said to be murdering fascists are in revelatory moments of oppor-tunity discovered to be the only saviours of the people’s cause and the nation’s well being.

These are marvels of non-semitic  plasticity combining with the crisp seductions of the market, together blessed by gods and goddesses who may well have been unheard of previously but who are amenable to being quickly uncovered and profitably unleashed in the “national interest”.

Speaking of burdens, the fast-forward party now commanded by a burgeoning Duce is rather ruthlessly busy also in discarding patriarchs who might have built and burnished the party out of its non-relevance, but are now clearly seen as drags, out of pace with the unsenti-mental and speedy requirements of corporate and cultural absolutism. The party with the broom may be sweeping the streets free of corruption, but the more real broom is now being wielded by the Duce to wipe the party’s slate clean of the cobwebs of gerontological genuflexion and other time-consuming forms of civilised and democratic dialogy. The legions of saffron shirts are set to be brought into military conformity and non-thinking resolve to storm the citadel of weak-mindedness and unforgiving critique or self-doubt. As moneys concentrate into fewer and fewer hands and pockets, political wisdom shrinks into one colossal  bosom whose rise and fall may henceforth determine the respiratory health of the republic.

All that, of course, to happen duly through the ballot box and the patriotic exertions of the endowded media who may valorise the great diversity that the market offers the consumer but who see irritatingly unnecessary challenges in the diversity of ideas.

To shade in the picture, there are also those who see and say that all this bodes no good, but are too ensconced in their comfort levels to strike out in any consequential manner of praxis. Among the writers, the poets, the commentators and such-like, the smart ones join the celebratory moment, while the dyed-in-the wool types speak their piece increasingly to their own ears, hoping that a post-Duce posterity will dig out the parchments of their conscience and hang them out for a new generation of opinion-makers.

In the meanwhile the festival of fun whirls apace towards a vortex of ecstasy when all fun may collapse in one monumental heap.

Like a true believer, I say with the Bard that ”there is providence in the fall of a sparrow”, and that a “divinity shapes our ends”.

What is happening now to the republic may have been long foretold by the political and other practices of the past decades; may be we were not listening enough.

The author, who taught English literature at the University of Delhi for over four decades and is now retired, is a prominent writer and poet. A well-known commentator on politics, culture and society, he wrote the much acclaimed Dickens and the Dialectic of Growth. His latest book, The Underside of Things—India and the World: A Citizen’s Miscellany, 2006-2011, came out in August 2012.

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